Many American families have been touched by the tragic impact of Alzheimer’s disease. The progressive disease is a form of dementia that impacts memory, thinking and behavior. While it’s most associated with those over 65, it can start as early as the 40’s and 50’s. Former “Good Times” star Bern Nadette Stanis’ family was one of the 5 million American families living with Alzheimer’s. Her beloved mother was diagnosed at age 72. Stanis wants others to know that it’s possible to cope with this devastating disease.
“Eight years ago my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,’ Stanis writes on her website. “I knew something was going on but it was only slight forgetfulness of things. I really noticed a change when she stopped cooking. She would always order in. Her clothes were not put together the way I knew she could, and her hair was untidy. I decided it was time for my mom to come live with me and my family. We were all eager to have her because she always said if she ever had to live with someone it would be me. I watched mom go from a person very concerned about everything to a person less and less concerned. That’s the way it appeared but her love and concern for me remained until the end. I was my mom’s caregiver and I was determined that she was going to live every single day she had left with dignity and joy. So I made the adjustments as we went along. We never lost our connection to one another and I know that was a blessing from God. I have cried for us both and even in her weakened state she would touch my hand to soothe my pain. She would say, ‘You are a good person, you’ll make it, you’ll be alright.’
Stanis’ mother died in 2011, but she vows to carry on the push to find a cure. She is the national Black spokesperson for Alzheimer’s Association, which supports families dealing with the condition.
“I know absolutely every single stage of this monster and I’m going to speak up and speak for us because a lot of African Americans don’t really understand what it can do,” she told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “We think it’s getting older and because of the respect we have for our parents, we don’t want to know and we don’t take them in early enough.”
Stanis says the holidays are often a time when family is gathered that hasn’t seen each other in a while. It is often when people will notice that older relatives are displaying unusual behavior, especially ones that live alone. “Take note of certain little things that are going on, not to say that your parents have it. Some signs are different than just getting old. We all start forgetting things as we get older, but Alzheimer’s is a different kind of forgetting.”
One of the most telling signs of Alzheimer’s are changes in behavior unrelated to age. Not only did Bern Nadette see that her usually well-groomed mother was not as together physically, her mother also stopped doing activities she previously loved, like playing Bingo.
“I did not know. And this is what I want to tell people. The disease was chasing me. I was like ‘We’re going to get rid of it.’ You’re not going to get rid of it. This is monster and you have to face it. The more that you can face it, and understand it and deal with them on the level that they’re on, the better it is for you.”
If you need help dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you can call 1-800-272-3900, a 24-hour Hotline to assist families living with Alzheimer’s.