Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 10, 2001

Trying to make Alzheimer's disease a distant memory

By Lynda Jensen

Several hundred walkers across Wright County plan to strap on their shoes and take part in a memory walk Saturday, 9 a.m. at Sturges Park in Buffalo.

The walkers will join others across the nation in raising research money for Alzheimer's disease, said Diane Moen of the Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center.

Alzheimer's is a progressive, irreversible neurological disorder that has no cure, Moen said.

Symptoms include gradual memory loss, impairment of judgement, disorientation, personality change, difficulty in learning, and loss of language skills.

More than one third to one half of nursing home residents have the disease, or a related disorder, Moen said.

Those who participate in the walk will raise funds to support research into the cause, prevention and a cure for the disease, Moen said.

In addition, donations support programs, and services for those dealing with the disease in Minnesota.

Those interested in walking may contact Diane Moen at (320) 543-3800.

The onset of an insidious disease

Three years ago, the first thing that John Berg noticed about his aunt, Henrietta Luhman of Howard Lake, was that she was walking a little differently, said his wife, Carol.

Next, the Bergs noticed small memory slip-ups when they would visit her at her Howard Lake home, such as forgetting that she already did something, Berg said.

Most Alzheimer's victims suffer short term memory loss at first, Moen said.

"Everyone is forgetful," she said. However, this kind of memory loss is different, and usually strikes people as being out of character for the victim, Moen said.

The disease is insidious because it robs seniors of a precious possession - their memories, Moen said.

Luhman would stockpile identical items at her home, but not use them, Berg said.

Luhman had two brothers, Ed and Walter, and one sister, Florence; who recently passed away March 31.

She worked at the Howard Lake drug store, and also spent several years as a cook in Wayzata, Berg said.

The long goodbye

Luhman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1999. She is living contentedly at the Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center, Berg said.

She just turned 88 a week ago.

The initial diagnosis was hard, she said. As the disease progresses, its symptoms are almost worse for the family, as they are forced to stand by and watch as their father, mother or grandparent mentally slip away, Moen said.

As the disease progresses, it takes away long-term memories, such as the names and faces of their family members, Moen said.

"It really is 'the long goodbye,'" Moen said, as was written in Nancy Reagan's book about Ronald Reagan, who has the disease.

One Alzheimer's victim kept calling her granddaughter by her mother's name - but only because the resemblance was so strong between the two at the age of 50, that the granddaughter made her think of her mother, Moen said.

Some Alzheimer's victims may become combative, annoyed, or frightened, since they are dealing with unknown situations all the time, Moen said.

This is not the case with Luhman, Berg said, who is more content and mellow now, Berg said. "She likes it at the Samaritan Center," she said.

There are drugs available that seem to help slow the disease down in the early stages for certain people, but not all, Moen said.

Victims of the later stages of Alzheimer's eventually suffer from such neurological deterioration that they cannot walk or feed themselves, Moen said.

The disease is terminal, Moen said, causing complications and other health problems that bring about death.

For more information about Alzheimer's, call 800-232-0851 or via the Internet: www.alzmndak.org.


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