By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
EDITOR’S NOTE: More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 15 million family members are involved in their care. To highlight this disease and the issues that surround it, the Daily Journal will offer a series of reports from the Mississippi State Alzheimer’s Conference this week.
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OLIVE BRANCH – As activities director at First Friends Senior Respite Center in Amory, Debbie Edwards is a caregiver at work. Since her mother-in-law, Elaine Edwards, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago, she’s a caregiver in her family, too.
Both roles have made her the 2012 recipient of the Dorris Award for Caregiving, presented at the State Department of Mental Health’s annual Conference on Alzheimer’s. The award is named for Mary Nell Dorris, founder of First Friends, and her husband Hopson Dorris, who she cared for throughout his battle with Alzheimer’s.
“I love coming in every day and seeing (participants’) faces, seeing them smile,” Edwards said. “That’s worth it all right there, to know that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
The job also trained her ahead of time for what her family would encounter.
“My father-in-law does a really, really good job, but I believe God put me in this position partly because of what lies ahead with my mother-in-law,” Debbie Edwards said.
She readily shares her family’s experience with those new to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Educate yourself,” she said. “Find a support group somewhere.” It’s important to keep people with Alzheimer’s engaged and independent as long as practical, she added, “but don’t kill yourself in the process.”
Edwards also emphasizes that while one person is likely to be the primary caregiver, meeting the physical, emotional and other needs of a person with a brain disorder is too much for one person.
“Take a part; give them a break. Let the primary caregiver have some time to go to the store or just be by themselves,” she said. “Alzheimer’s is a family matter.”