MARQUETTE - The last few years haven't been easy ones for Shirley Jandreau's family.
They have watched Mrs. Jandreau, 80, suffer more and more from the effects of Alzheimer's disease.
"This is a very sad way to lose your loved one," said Rosemary Larson, Mrs. Jandreau's daughter. "You see the person you knew and love slowly slip away mentally and personality-wise and turn into this person who is totally different from what you know of your mom.
Jim LaJoie and his mother, Shirley Jandreau, pose before LaJoie’s June 2007 wedding. A few months later, Mrs. Jandreau was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. LaJoie and his sister, Rosemary Larson, are participating in Saturday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s to honor their mother. (Jim LaJoie photo)
A large number of people participated in 2010’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, as shown in this photo. This year’s event takes place Saturday at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. (Alzheimer’s Association photo)
"It's heartbreaking and you shed a lot of tears," Larson said. "I guess you pray that you make the right decisions. You put it into God's hands."
Larson and her brother, Jim LaJoie, also are springing into action, taking part in the Walk to End Alzheimer's, which is taking place Saturday at Presque Isle Park in Marquette.
"I'm participating because I want to do this in honor of my mom, who I love with all my heart and soul. I also want to call attention to this dreadful disease that sadly robs families of their loved ones," LaJoie said. "More and more cases of Alzheimer's will be diagnosed over the next decade. It's important that we educate others about dementia-Alzheimer's and help wherever we can."
Ruth Almen, regional director for the Alzheimer's Association Upper Peninsula Region, said more than 35 million people are living with dementia around the world.
"An increasing number of caregivers 'look' like Jim and his sister Rose, working full-time, family commitments and kids at home," Almen said. "They are, in fact, the highest percentage of people providing this care in the country: ages 45-54 make up 23 percent and ages 55-64 33 percent. Our typical image of a grandparent caring for another grandparent is still prevalent, but those over 65 only make up 23 percent of all caregivers in this country.
"Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's often requires 24-hour care and supervision, and most family members report thinking about their loved ones with the disease all the time, whether they live in their home or on their own," Almen said. "There are 14.9 million unpaid caregivers in the country currently."
The Alzheimer's diagnosis was not an easy one for Mrs. Jandreau's family to hear.
"My mom is one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people I've ever met," LaJoie said. "She is a gentle, unassuming woman with a heart of gold. ... She absolutely loved our house in Palmer. She loved to play cards, with a special affinity for cribbage and smear. Over the years we have played countless spirited games of cribbage. I would do anything, absolutely anything, to be able to have the opportunity to play her one more time. I miss it terribly. But I know that will not happen."
The changes in Mrs. Jandreau were subtle, at first.
"I started noticing changes, I would say about three or four years ago," Larson said. "She started off just being worried about things a lot more and then she started repeating stories or questions."
Consultations with doctors led to the Alzheimer's diagnosis about three years ago, Larson said.
"Much to her displeasure, we had her tested for early stage dementia at the Memory Clinic at Marquette General," LaJoie said. "She failed miserably. We knew then that her journey with dementia-Alzheimer's was beginning. Little did any of us know the pain and anguish this dreadful disease would inflict upon friends and loved ones."
Mrs. Jandreau was living in an apartment on her own, but started to neglect taking her medications. Then a few months ago, things got worse as the disease progressed.
"She began to get angry and argumentative, and felt that friends at her apartment complex 'hated her'," LaJoie said. "She also started to go into other residents' rooms, unannounced, which upset some residents. It was then that my sister and I got together to review our options and felt we needed to get her into the Memory Care Clinic at Brookridge for her own safety and for our peace of mind."
Mrs. Jandreau has been a resident of Brookridge Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care facility for a bit more than a month.
"We know she's getting caring, compassionate round-the-clock care from a terrific group of caregivers," LaJoie said. "I sleep better at night knowing she is in a safe place.
"The whole experience has humbled me as a person. More so than ever, I appreciate the little things in life and treasure every moment, every day. Having dinner with my mom at Brookridge is the highlight of my week."
Larson said all this has made her and her brother determined to help others who are going through the struggle with Alzheimer's as well.
"We are taking part in the walk to bring awareness to this horrible disease and to walk as a family to honor our mom," she said. "We're doing it to support the Alzheimer's Association, as they do wonderful work in our area to help the families through the heartbreak of Alzheimer's."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.