Finding a cure for Alzheimer?s one step at a time
For the fourth year in a row Bob Smith will be participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event and for this WW II veteran, there is no greater cause. His wife, Jeri will be on his mind.
Bob knows all about what Alzheimer’s can do to a loved one. For 18 years he faithfully nurtured his spouse through the slow and persistent progression of this horrible disease. Jeri died almost a year ago and her passing was a hard blow.
“I miss the companionship,” said Bob. “I miss being able to take care of her.”
Bob and Jeri met on a blind date in 1948 and it wasn’t long before they were married in May of 1949. They couple moved to Tomahawk in 1972 where Bob became president of Tomahawk Savings and Loan. Jeri stayed at home to raise their children Cheryl and Greg. She also enjoyed golfing, playing cards and gardening.
Then in 1996 Bob noticed subtle changes coming over his wife. The couple saw a neurologist and it was determined Jeri was suffering from mini strokes, but there was more.
“We really weren’t thinking she had early on-set dementia,” said Bob. “But she was tested and that’s what the diagnosis was. It really put us in a spin. Back then they just gave you a diagnosis and then you were sort of on your own. No one told us there was any help available so we just did the best we could but I felt very alone.”
It wasn’t long after that grim diagnosis Bob had to install alarms on all the doors in the couple’s home.
“She couldn’t sleep very well and she would get up and wander around,” Bob said. “I was afraid she would get out and get lost.”
For 12 years Bob, along with his daughter, Cheryl, cared for Jeri in their home, always willing to do whatever it took to make her comfortable. Bob would take her shopping and she loved strawberry sundaes so they made frequent trips to McDonald’s for her favorite treat.
For Cheryl, who is a professional caregiver, the diagnosis was just as devastating.
“For many years Mom thought I was her sister,” said Cheryl. “But we learned to never argue or try to correct her. Life just went smoother that way.”
But the stress of being a 24/7 caregiver took its toll on Bob. He had a heart attack in 2004
“I think the stress of this disease was a big part of me having a heart attack,” said Bob. “But my goal was to get better so I could get home to take care of Jeri.”
Then in 2007 Jeri fell and broke her hip, requiring an operation. It threw the family into even more turmoil. Jeri recovered enough from this fall to go from a wheelchair to a cane.
“She was quick with that cane,” said Bob with a chuckle. “If she didn’t like what you were doing or saying she was apt to take a swipe at you with it.”
By 2009 it became clear that the family, especially Bob, could no longer cope with the continuous and stressful care required to keep Jeri at home so they placed her in a nursing home but that didn’t stop Bob from visiting her every day.
“Mom always seemed to know Dad and he was a person she felt safe with,” said Cheryl. “She would always light up when he came into her room.”
At this point Bob decided to reach out and he found a support group for people going through the Alzheimer’s journey
“It was so good to find a group like this and be able to talk about what we were all going through,” he said. “It also gave me a way to help others. That made me feel good.”
Jeri died in Oct. of 2013 from complications of her disease. Her passing was not only sorrowful for her family, but for Jeri herself.
“When a person has dementia it’s very hard to talk to them about dying,” Cheryl said, “she fought it every step of the way.”
Today Bob lives with Cheryl and he continues to adjust to life without his wife of 64 years. But he finds creative outlets to spend his time. He loves to bake and he’s become a special friend to Cheryl’s little dog, Zoey.
“I can’t eat most of what I bake but I really like giving it away,” he said, “and Zoey is great company when Cheryl is at work.”
While Bob and Cheryl continue to miss Jeri, the pair feel very proud to be taking part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s which will take place Sept. 20.
“Whatever we can do to raise money to find a cure for this disease we will do,” said Bob. “It’s so important to find a way to end this.”
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place on Saturday, Sept. 20 at the Rouman Cinema in Rhinelander. Registration starts at 9 a.m. with a ceremony at 10 a.m. and the 1.5 or 3 mile walk starts after that. To find out how to participate call Julie St. Pierre at 715-362-7779.