Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Sept. 9, 2002

Another long goodbye: Alzheimer's affects Bernice Engelman, her family

By Lynda Jensen

Long goodbyes are familiar with the families of Alzheimer's victims.

The term "long goodbye" was originally coined by former President Ronald Reagan, who wrote his famous "long goodbye" letter nearly a decade ago when he was diagnosed with the disease.

So it is with Howard Lake resident Bernice Engelman, 87, and her family, as they were forced to watch her memory slip away entirely over the past decade.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, and the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Today, Engelman does not recognize any of her family members, including her four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "She knows no one," commented her daughter, Jan Comstock of Howard Lake.

Currently, Engelman lives at the Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center, and has been there since 1996.

Engelman was first diagnosed with the disease about two years after her husband, Alvin, died of a heart attack in 1991.

Until then, Alvin spent time covering up symptoms of her illness, Comstock said.

"The hardest part was when she first got it," Comstock said. Her mother would remember things that didn't happen and argue with her, she said. "You can't reason with them," she said, referring to Alzheimer's victims.

In fact, that's how they initially figured out that Engelman had the disease, she said. "It became obvious when she would come up with stories that couldn't possibly happen."

Another symptom of the illness was a drop in Engelman's weight, since she would forget to eat, Comstock said.

Comstock remembers a time when her mother called her, distraught because she was looking for a cake that hadn't baked in the first place. Her mother accused her of eating the cake in its entirety. Comstock denied eating it.

Her answer was 'Well, I sat right here and watched you eat it,' Comstock said. This didn't happen, she said.

Comstock remembers a particularly hard Thanksgiving when Engelson refused to attend the turkey dinner ­ insisting that she was supposed to pick apples at the orchard she was employed at, about some 50 years before.

Family members begged her to come, pointing to the snow on the ground and that it wasn't the season for apples, but this was to no avail, Comstock said.

Several members of Engelman's family plan to walk at the Memory Walk for Alzheimer's 9 a.m. Saturday at Sturges Park in Buffalo.

Alzheimer's statistics

The following are facts about Alzheimer's from the Alzheimer's Association:

· more than 7 of 10 people with Alzheimer's disease live at home. Almost 75 percent of the home care is provided by family and friends. The remainder is "paid" care costing an average of $12,500 per year. Families pay almost all of that out-of-pocket.

· approximately 4 million Americans have Alzehimer's. In a 1993 national survey, 19 million Americans said they had a family member with it, and 37 million said they knew someone with it.

· 14 million Americans will have it by the middle of this century (2050) unless a cure or prevention is found.

· one in 10 persons over 65 and nearly half of those older than 85 have Alzheimer's. A small percentage of people as young as their 30s and 40s get the disease.

A person with Alzheimer's will live an average of eight years and as many as 20 years or more from the onset of symptoms.

U.S. society spends at least $100 billion a year on Alzheimer's. Neither Medicare nor most private health insurance covers the long-term care most patients need.

· Alzheimer's disease is costing American business more than $61 billion a year ­ which includes caregiving (lost productivity from absenteeism of employees who care for family members with Alzheimer's); the rest is the business share of the costs of health and long-term care.

· half of all nursing home residents suffer from Alzheimer's or a related disorder. The average cost for nursing home care is $42,000 per year, but can exceed $70,000 per year in some areas of the country.

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