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Battling the 'long goodbye' disease
Statesboro community dedicated to fighting Alzheimer's
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Henry and Charlene Doyle stand outside Henry's new room at Willow Pond At Home. Henry, who used to own longstanding Statesboro business Henry's Haircuts, moved into the facility in July after his memory problems grew too severe for Charlene to care for on her own. Outside Henry's room is the original barber pole from his shop, which Willow Pond Director Bruce Yawn brought in to make Henry feel more at home. - photo by Special

Alzheimer's Support Group meetings
Pittman Park Church: Second Mondays at 10:30 a.m.
    Facilitator: Deb Bendor, Gentilly Gardens
     Sponsor: Alzheimer's Association

East Georgia Medical Center Dining Room: Fourth Tuesdays at 5 p.m.
    Facilitators: Virginia Yarber and Dr. Helen Winstead
     Sponsor: Pilot Club and East Georgia Regional Medical Center

           It's 5 p.m. on a Tuesday on this autumn day in Statesboro. While many are outside enjoying the cool air that has finally touched south Georgia, a group of 12 people sits in a boardroom adjacent to East Georgia Regional Medical Center's cafeteria. They are here for support, for answers to their ongoing struggles dealing with their loved ones who have Alzheimer's.  
        On the fourth Tuesday of each month, this support group, sponsored by the Pilot Club of Statesboro and EGRMC, meets so families who face this neurodegenerative disease are not alone. Alzheimer's, a form of dementia, not only steals people's memories but takes away their ability to remember their families.
        "It's a particularly devastating illness for families to deal with," said retired nurse educator Virginia Yarber, one of the support group leaders who has helped facilitate the meetings for the last 21 years. "We call it 'the long goodbye disease,' and its cruel indignity to the person affected creates mammoth-sized struggles for families caring for their loved one."
        On this particular Tuesday, a woman who has brought her Alzheimer's-ravaged husband with her shows up halfway through the meeting. She is flustered, almost in tears, as she apologizes to the group for her tardiness — she could not get her husband dressed. She guides her husband to a chair, helps him sit and then sighs as she attempts to focus on the purpose of the meeting. Her husband is impeccably dressed in trousers and a bow tie. His eyes are brown and kind. Her eyes are haggard, revealing the tiredness and stress of the day. She's looking for answers to find a medication to help him with Sundowner's, a syndrome that attacks him in the late afternoon as sunlight fades.
        Around the bypass, just three miles away, Charlene Doyle is sitting in Willow Pond At Home's memory care community with her husband of 51 years, Henry, who moved there in July. Henry, who owned Henry's Haircuts for decades, initially thought his memory issues were primarily due to keeping up with so many of their tenants at their mobile home park.
        "We basically thought his memory problems were due to normal aging, but we were wrong," Charlene sighed. She takes each day as it comes and says her stress level has decreased significantly since seeking care for her husband.
        "I just couldn't do it alone anymore. It was the hardest decision I've ever made, but my family was worried I was losing my good physical health because Henry's illness was wearing me down so much," she said. 
        To make Henry's new living environment particularly pleasing, Bruce Yawn, executive director of Willow Pond, had the idea to fasten the original Henry's Haircut's barbershop pole beside the suite entrance. 

Ongoing support efforts
        Statesboro is fortunate to have a committed and vibrant Alzheimer's
support community. In addition to two support group meetings, there is Project Lifesaver, which is sponsored by the Pilot's Club and the Bulloch County Sheriff's Department. This rapid-response safety program helps protect and locate persons.
        "This device can be worn on your wrist or ankle and can locate the person if they wander," explains Cendra Brown, Willow Pond's At-Home Administrator and treasurer of the Pilot Club.
       Other resources in Statesboro include the Caring Closet, which is co-sponsored by the Pilot Club and Alzheimer's Association.
        "This program is orchestrated every Friday at Pittman Park Church and donates adult incontinence products to families," Brown added.
        Finally, the Silver Lining Club meets every Saturday morning at Statesboro Presbyterian Church.

Walking for a cure

        Beyond these ongoing support activities, Alzheimer's advocates join forces each year to coordinate the Walk to End Alzheimer's. This year, the walk is scheduled for Oct. 10 at Bulloch Academy. The committee, headed by Jo Ann Hickman and Cendra Brown, has rallied community volunteers for months to seek out new partners to join this awareness campaign. From Home Instead employees Allison Mager and Kim Martin who have tirelessly encouraged Statesboro businesses to form teams to other volunteers who have distributed posters to encourage participation, the group is passionate about the chief overarching goal: to find a cure.
        Of course, more than anyone, those at the support group wish for scientists to unravel the mysteries of this disease.         As the support group meeting comes to a close, the main topic circles around to the importance of the caregivers taking care of themselves.
       "It's a 36-hour disease," explains co-facilitator Dr. Helen Winstead, a retired counselor and educator. "All of us here are trying to equip each other to handle the unique and challenging situations Alzheimer's presents to families. Everyone inside this room is going through a trying time and we are committed that no one fight this disease alone."

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