Dec. 2-8, 2004
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Best-selling Author Speaks About Caring for the Elderly and Alzheimer’s Disease
WHITESBORO –– Jacqueline Marcell, best-selling author and former television executive, spoke to more than 200 people at Harts Hill Inn on Nov. 17. The event, sponsored by Oneida County Office of Aging, invited professional and family caregivers to listen to Marcell’s four-year journey caring for both parents who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. Nursing home, hospital, social service agencies and adult care staff members joined the general public to learn the warning signs and receive helpful advice from Marcell’s personal experiences. After caring for her elderly parents, Marcell became an author, publisher, radio host, national speaker and advocate for eldercare awareness and reform. Her book entitled, Elder Rage, or Take My Father…Please!, brings a difficult subject out into the open and offers humor and insight as well as valuable information on dementia.
Her father, who had always had a negative pattern of behavior, was becoming intermittently disoriented with the onset of dementia. Because her father never showed his “Hyde” side outside the family, physicians that are not trained to uncover the earliest stages of dementia, told her that his odd behavior was just a normal part of aging or untreatable senility. His tempers were so extreme that in one year’s time, Marcell went through 40 caregivers who either quit or were thrown out by her father. “I cried every day for a year,” said Marcell. “I couldn’t get a doctor to believe what was going on. I was begging for help and looking for answers.”
Marcell realized that what was happening to her (lack of correct medical advice) was probably happening to people across the country. “My father was suffering from dementia, namely Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Unfortunately, not a lot of doctors specialize in it. I finally found help at the Alzheimer’s Association.” Through the help of the Association, which gave her the 10 warning signs of the disease and a referral to a geriatric dementia specialist, Marcell finally had the answers she was looking for.
“Both my parents had Alzheimer’s and both were misdiagnosed,” she said. “It’s important to find a doctor that treats dementia.” Marcell suggested to the audience that, if they suspected someone was suffering from dementia, they write down anything the person does that is out of the ordinary and report it to health care providers. “My mom had two sweaters on and wanted a third,” she said. “If the behavior seems odd, it is.” Marcell shared that her father suffered from disorientation of time and place –– one of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s. “I took my dad through a town he had lived in for many years. Nothing looked familiar to him. He didn’t recognize where he was. Had I known sooner what he was suffering from, I would have gotten him help, not just cried my eyes out,” she said.
Marcell went through the 10 warning signs with the audience and told a related story about each, including depression, loss of initiative and changes in mood or behavior. “Don’t try to use logic and reason with a person with dementia,” she said. “Distract them or redirect them to get them off the topic they are upset about.” She gave the example of her dad accusing a caregiver of bringing in other people’s laundry to wash and using all his water. Instead of arguing that the caregiver was not bringing in other people’s laundry, Marcell redirected her father by introducing a topic he had always been interested in.
Marcell encouraged those traveling the journey of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to join a support group. It is a good source of resources and solutions. Online support groups are always there, at all times of the day and night, explained Marcell. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a wonderful, supportive resource. Their website is www.alz.org. At the end of the seminar, Marcell stated that she has been battling breast cancer for the past year and feels that her rage and stress of caring for her parents for several years while ignoring her own health contributed to the disease. After many months of treatments, she is back advocating and educating the public on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “My doctors say that stress probably didn’t cause the cancer directly, but that the prolonged stress of caregiving compromised my already weak immune system,” she said. “I foolishly put off my own checkups and mammograms, which let the cancer grow unchecked for several years.” Marcell emphasized the importance of enrolling elderly loved ones in adult day care, attending support groups and asking for specific help from family and friends.
When Marcell finally received the help and support she needed, she shifted emotional gears and stopped crying everyday. “I was watching the long goodbye of two parents,” she said. “They were going to die. But we all are,” she said.