In their 23 years of marriage, Oak Parkers Betty and Tom Henderson danced through life. Then about two years ago, everything "flipped overnight."
"The man I live with now is not the man I married," said Betty at Accolade Adult Day Services, a program run by Catholic Charities. "His personality is gone. Our anniversary means nothing to him. Nothing means anything to him anymore. I miss him."
The first signs came on the job when the professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Chicago could no longer teach his medical students.
The explanation came when he was diagnosed with a non-Alzheimer's type of degeneration that has affected his ability to organize things, follow directions and mentally stay on track.
"Tom is a great example of how individuals with this can pass all these tests that people give for Alzheimer's because their memories are fine, initially, but later on memory will be an issue," says Betty, who continues to lecture three days a week for UIC's Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. "That is starting to happen to Tom now."
A through-the-week support system was needed when she contacted Theresa Gates-Ross, the director of Accolade Adult Day Services.
"My goal for Tom and Betty, and all the patients and caregivers here, is that we do our very best to take care of their loved ones, while they, the caregivers, get much-needed rest or run some errands," Gates-Ross says. "We have a nurse on staff, so we let them know that whatever happens, we will call them. Once the family realizes their loved one likes it here, all that becomes easier."
All in a day
In this new community, Tom's busy day begins with a meet-and-greet, followed by breakfast and exercise. Then he and his new friends continue socializing through a range of activities, which includes a drumming circle where Tom, a former high school marching band drummer, pounds a bongo drum.
Doing puzzles is a dexterous passion he still possesses, as is taking long walks and volunteering to help out onsite when asked, Gates-Ross says.
Late morning, this laid-back "southern gentleman" enjoys lunch or coffee at a local eatery or hops the van to visit the Oak Park or Garfield Park conservatories.
They might head west to spend an afternoon jumping on a jumbo trampoline in Naperville, or travel into Chicago to have lunch at the House of Blues and, perhaps, take in Buckingham Fountain.
Excursion groups are formed, Gates-Ross says, based on each patient's functionality.
"I'll be planning a trip to the Chicago Botanic Gardens soon," she notes, "and I know Tom will adore that because he still knows a whole lot about plants."
On weekends, Betty chooses to go it alone with her husband.
"Just trying to get ready to go somewhere is very hard," she observes, "because you have to repeat things to him over and over and over again.
I think one of the differences is that I am still determined to have him do whatever he can do on his own. But every now and then, I do get frustrated and say, here, let me put it on."
To provide additional support quarterly, Gates-Ross conducts caregiver workshops, and is hoping to offer free respite to caregivers one Saturday morning a month soon.
"It's a hard job to care for someone you do not recognize as the person that you remember being there," says Gates-Ross to Betty.
"It is almost like being with a stranger. But you have done so well, Betty. I'm proud of you."