The tough journey of Alzheimer?s Disease
George Eickelberg didn’t pay much attention when his wife Marilyn seemed to be getting more forgetful. At first her memory lapses were infrequent but as the weeks and months passed they became more prevalent. “You know when you live with a person day in and day out you don’t notice the changes as much as someone who visits,” said George. “At first I just thought maybe it was age and nothing to worry about.”
But the couple’s children did notice when they would call or visit their parents. “I noticed in the beginning Mom would repeat questions she had just asked me,” said Sara Chiamulera, the couple’s youngest daughter. “And she seemed more confused about doing simple tasks. She would call and tell me her computer was broke. At one point we even bought her a new one, but then we started to realize it wasn’t the computer. Mom was just forgetting how to operate it.”
By 2008 the family decided it was time to have Marilyn tested. “She would forget stuff like how to get out of the car,” said George. “She also had times when she would go into the bedroom and not let anyone in. Then I knew something was really wrong.”
The results of the tests were devastating. Marilyn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and it threw the family for a loop. “I don’t think anyone is really prepared when they get a diagnosis like that,” Sara said. “We were in shock and knew life would never be the same.”
And life wasn’t, especially for George. He did his best to take of Marilyn, but by 2011 she was having frequent angry outbursts and George felt her safety was also at risk. The family decided to place her in a nursing home in Tomahawk. “I would go see her every day,” said George. “It was hard because the entire time she resisted everything. She resisted being tested and she really resisted being put in the nursing home.”
The Eickelberg’s had always been a loving couple. They move to Tomahawk in 1979 from Chicago with their combined family of three children and then had Sara shortly after their move. They relished spending time with their family and enjoying all the Northwoods had to offer. George worked on the Lincoln County highway department and Marilyn was just as industrious. She worked as a waitress at various Tomahawk establishments and for a long while worked at Case as a member of the support staff there.
They were looking forward to their retirement years when Marilyn was diagnosed in her early 60s. “I thought it was kind of young to have that diagnosis,” said George. “But I guess it’s not uncommon.”
After Marilyn was diagnosed the family did all they could to learn more about this insidious disease. Sara and George realized they needed support and both joined support groups as the disease progressed. “Those groups helped me so much,” said George. “I got to talk to other married couples who were going through this and they gave me an idea of what was in store ahead.”
Last winter, George and Sara noticed Marilyn failing fast and in March of 2012, she passed. “You know in your life you go through tough times like when your parents die but nothing prepares you for when your spouse dies,” George said, as tears swelled. “It’s very hard adjusting to that.”
George is the type of person that relishes helping others and today he is doing just that. He continues to attend the Alzheimer’s support group in Rhinelander but was baffled when he realized there was no support group in Tomahawk. He enquired about it and his concern and tenacity resulted in a group also forming there. “One of the big things that helps you get through these times is knowing you are not alone,” he said. “I want to help other people who are going through what we did. Helping others makes me feel good and I want to give back what I took away from these groups when we attended.”
As a mother of two small children with a full-time job, Sara has a hard time finding the resources to attend many support groups, but one activity she remains active in is supporting the Walk to End Alzheimer’s which will be Saturday, Sept. 21 in Rhinelander. “I feel it is so important to raise money for this cause,” she said. “I think lots of people believe that Alzheimer’s won’t ever affect their family. I know because that’s what we thought. But it is a leading cause of death in this country and yet so little money is going for research. I want to change that.”
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be Sat., Sept. 21 at the Rouman Cinema, 1205 Lincoln St. in Rhinelander. Walk-in registration starts at 9 a.m. with the opening ceremony starting at 10 a.m. Teams are encouraged to participate but individuals are more than welcome.
For more information call Julie St. Pierre at 715-362-7779. Her email address is [email protected] . Also check out the event’s website at act.alz.org/rhinelander-wi to print out a paper entry form and learn more.