Alzheimer’s: ‘I want to celebrate with Mom in every encounter’

Val Jean Eaton and her daughter Cindy Goetting at Val's assisted-living homeWhen Cindy Goetting’s mother falls asleep, her daughter holds her.

“She wakes up confused. She asks where she is. And I always tell her, ‘Right here in my arms, Mom,’” Goetting said.

Goetting, Carle’s HIV program coordinator — who works every day with patients with chronic conditions and their families — was the first in the family to see changes in her mother. Val Jean Eaton was always the consummate cook.

“She would order copious amounts of chicken from the Schwan’s man, but she’d forget how she made the dishes she’d made all of her life,” Goetting said.

Most people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia experience a better quality of life when experts diagnose and address conditions early. Carle care teams partner in a host of ways to create, monitor and adjust care plans for each person and situation.

“Our staff and social workers provide supportive care,” said Shukti Ghulyani, MD, a Geriatric Medicine specialist. “I do wish people understood more about Alzheimer’s and the others forms of dementia. We want them to recognize problems in their loved ones so they can start treatment as soon as possible.

“That way the disease progresses more slowly.”

Catherine York, PhD, a Carle neuropsychologist, says watch for these kinds of changes.

  • Cognitive abilities like repeating things, forgetting names and losing track of conversations.
  • Behavior like a calm person getting mad or upset easily. Also watch for depression, inappropriate laughing or crying, paranoia and sleeplessness.
  • Managing daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, paying bills and personal hygiene.

Cindy Goetting's parents before dementiaIf not for Eaton’s care team, watching her mother lose who she was would have been even worse for Goetting.

“It was challenging to get others to see what I saw. Mom’s doctors gave me the courage and reassurance I needed, as heartbroken as I was,” she said.

“They said I was doing the right thing. Without that, I would have been crippled by the heartbreak.”

Goetting’s brothers understood their parents were changing when neighbors gave clear examples.

“Dad would run the mower until he hit the house. Then he’d stop each time to figure out how to turn it around,” Goetting said. “That propelled our family to greater acceptance of what was happening to our parents.”

Their father died 18 months after his Lewy Body Dementia diagnosis.

“In 2013, my mom was Dr. Ghulyani’s first patient on her first day at Carle. She’s gone on this long road of Alzheimer’s disease with us. She’s helped us to understand how to enhance our time with Mom,” Goetting said.

At age 87, Eaton’s anxiety often seems like that of a lost toddler.

In fact, a toenail trim “scares Mom to death. So while I do it, I whistle songs she recognizes. I’ll ask her, ‘Mom, what’s this song?’ She’ll respond and sing a line or two,” Goetting said.

“What I’ve learned, and what I do with all my patients, is find comfort in what’s uncomfortable.”

Val Jean as a young womanGoetting’s mother taught her children that compassion.

“Every day she brought joy to our family. We always had her attention and a snack after school. She was nurturing, and she was loving,” Goetting said.

“Oftentimes Mom will say to me now, ‘Why do you treat me so good? How can I ever pay you back?”

Goetting always answers the same way.

“Paid in full, Mom. Paid in full.”

No one fully knows what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but experts believe age and family history play a role. If you see changes in loved ones, please talk about those changes and seek medical and other support. For more information, please contact your Primary Care Provider or Carle Geriatrics at (217) 255-9646.