Lifelines: Respite services, support groups provide invaluable support for families with Alzheimer’s

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Margaret Rushing prompts her husband, Ken, to say a blessing before eating at their Corinth home with neighbor Butch Huff. As Alzheimer's has increased the challenges that Ken faces, their neighbors have been lifelines, says Margaret.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Margaret Rushing prompts her husband, Ken, to say a blessing before eating at their Corinth home with neighbor Butch Huff. As Alzheimer’s has increased the challenges that Ken faces, their neighbors have been lifelines, says Margaret.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Whenever Margaret Rushing is away from her husband, Ken, she’s careful to keep her phone close.

Alzheimer’s disease has made the Corinth man unpredictable. Friends sit with him while Margaret Rushing takes an hour for exercise or a visit to the monthly support group, but the list of people that Ken is comfortable with in her absence is shrinking. Earlier this year, he kicked a much- loved friend out of the house when she came to stay. Thankfully, the friend had her phone and was able to alert Margaret.

“Right now, everything revolves around him,” Margaret Rushing said. “We have a routine, but everything has to stay flexible.”

Her most predictable break comes Tuesdays, when Ken goes to Sharing Hearts, an adult day care at Corinth’s First Baptist Church for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

“They’re fantastic,” Margaret Rushing said. “He loves it there.”

Her friends at the Corinth Alzheimer’s support group helped her learn that Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t respond to logic. You can’t argue with a person with dementia and expect them to calm down. You have to accept them the way they are, not they way they used to be.

“They taught me that he’s 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time,” Margaret Rushing said. “They’ve helped in so, so many ways.… I’m not alone in the world.”

Margaret Rushing maintains the relentlessly cheerful demeanor of a preschool teacher. People with dementia don’t always understand speech, but they do understand body language.

“Alzheimer’s is such a devastating disease,” said Suzanne Kiddy, a family friend who works with Ken at Sharing Hearts. “She has to do everything for him.”

People who are grappling with Alzheimer’s personally and professionally can connect with each other and resources on May 8 at the Northeast Mississippi Alzheimer’s Conference at the Itawamba Community College Belden Center. The event is free to caregivers.

Love story

Nearly 30 years ago, Margaret met Ken when he came to fix her phone.

The handsome telephone lineman, who grew up in Corinth, was charming, musically talented and kind. He helped her rebuild her confidence after an abusive relationship. The couple built a life together in California.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Margaret showers Ken with relentless cheerfulness as Alzheimer's reduces his capacity to communicate and understand.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Margaret showers Ken with relentless cheerfulness as Alzheimer’s reduces his capacity to communicate and understand.

“He was really special,” said Margaret Rushing. “Everything fit into place.”

They had a full, active life over the past 28 years. Ken was gifted musically – he played everything with strings except the banjo. He was an auctioneer. They traveled the country in a motor home.

When Ken retired in 2004, the couple began to lay the foundations of a life in Mississippi. They bought a home in Belmont, and Ken started fixing it up while Margaret finished out her last few years as a teacher. In 2007, they moved to Mississippi permanently. In 2010, they bought his sister’s home and moved to Corinth, a move Margaret counts as a blessing because their close neighbors have been so supportive.

In hindsight, the first signs were complaints from Ken that his wife had cleaned up his things, that he couldn’t find anything. Then the paranoia and agitation started. By 2009, doctors had prescribed Ken Alzheimer’s medication based on his wife’s description of his behavior.

Alzheimer’s has been constantly challenging. As Ken’s behavior changed, doctors would adjust medications. The combination of Exelon and an antidepressant helped stabilize him for a year.

“That really helped for a long, long time,” Margaret Rushing said.

But in 2011, Margaret Rushing had five black eyes in six months during a particularly rocky period. At the end, it took a 19-day admission to the geriatric psych unit at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Booneville to break through the violent behavior.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Margaret Rushing said.

A third medicine, Zeprexa, has helped keep Ken on an even keel, even as the Alzheimer’s has progressed, Margaret Rushing said. There are good and bad days.

Ken is starting to have trouble with his speech and continence. His wife fixes his plate, nudges him through daily tasks and redirects him when she can. She nods encouragingly as he chats about “going there” and “doing that” as she tries to puzzle out his meaning.

She keeps his favorite bluegrass music on heavy rotation on the TV. She avoids the news and weather since Ken no longer can differentiate between what’s happening in Corinth and what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

But the connections with Sharing Hearts, the support group and their neighbors have opened up their world again. The input from her health care team, other caregivers and friends have been invaluable in helping the Rushings navigate the ever-changing nature of Alzheimer’s.

“You have to have all the tools,” she said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

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LEARN MORE

What: Northeast Mississippi Alzheimer’s Conference

When: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 8

Where: ICC Belden Center

Who: Open to health care professionals and caregivers

Highlights: Diagnosing Dementia: Identification, Assessment and Treatment Options; Outside of the Box Approach to Meaningful Activity Engagement; Elder Abuse: Signs, Symptoms – Interventions in Home and Community Settings; and Pragmatic: Solutions in a Stressful World.

Cost: Cost is $20 for professionals, $10 for Mississippi Gerontological Society members, free to caregivers and ICC gerontology students

More info: Sara Murphy at (601) 987-0020 or smurphy2@alz.org.

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SUPPORT GROUPS

Alzheimer’s support groups

Amory – 10 a.m. first Monday of the month, First Friends office. Call (662) 256-1130

Corinth – 6 p.m. the first Thursday of the month, Corinth Library. Call (662) 594-5526

Fulton – group is in process of reorganizing

Pontotoc – 6 p.m. fourth Monday of the month at NMMC-Pontotoc Long term Care conference room. Call (662) 488-7638.

Starkville – 6:30 p.m. first Tuesday of the month at Church of Christ. Call (662)329-3843.

Tupelo – 6 p.m. first Tuesday of month at Cedars Health Center conference room. Call (662) 844-1441

West Point – 6:30 p.m. the third Thursday of the month at Henry Clay County Retirement Center. Call (662) 495-2339