Understanding Alzheimer’s

Local woman and her sisters hope to help other families

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Every 68 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three senior citizens dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

With statistics such as these, it is likely that most people will deal with this deadly disease at some point.

Jeri Warner of Camas experienced the devastating impacts of Alzheimer’s after her mother, Laurie Snoey, was diagnosed in 2005.

After Snoey’s death in 2011, Warner and her sisters, Brenda Niblock and Patricia Woodell, decided to write a book in an effort to help others who are looking for answers.

Originally, the goal was to write a family story about the impacts of dementia. However, that changed as the sisters researched the book and recalled events that happened during their mother’s struggles.

“We learned about dementia by trial and error,” Warner said. “We decided that no one should have to go through what we did. Alzheimer’s and dementia are incurable, but there are things you can do for your loved ones to help them have a good quality of life.”

“Are the keys in the freezer?” is a blend of advice for consumers and a story of a family’s search for answers. It deals with the topics of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia resources, care facilities, hospice, finances, advance directives, costs and other topics.

In the process of writing the book, the sisters interviewed professionals in the fields of psychology, law and medicine. They visited care facilities with differing philosophies, researched national resources to help families, and had industry experts provide technical reviews of the book prior to its publication in February.

In addition, the sisters also come from a medical background. Their youngest sister, Leslie Angelo, is a nurse. She didn’t participate in the writing of the book due to work obligations.

Niblock is a retired health educator, while Warner worked as a physical therapist for 35 years. Woodell, the oldest sister, retired from the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development.

But despite having medical knowledge, the sisters were still newcomers to the world of dementia. Every change in their mother’s condition taught them new things, prompted questions and additional research.

“We are hoping that people will know what will be needed during this journey,” Niblock, of Vancouver, said. “We didn’t know what to expect, or that this disease would cut her remaining lifespan in half. We wanted to tell our story in examples of our experience.”

Added Warner, “When you know what is going to happen, you are much better able to deal with it.”

Although their mom was not diagnosed until 2005, she had suspected for awhile that something was wrong, and even asked her doctor if there was some kind of test for it.

“The doctor told her, ‘If you are this aware of it, you probably don’t have it.’”

All four sisters were noticing things, too. Their mother was forgetting to take blood-pressure medication, sometimes couldn’t remember where she had parked her car and forgot lunch appointments.

“We were all noticing symptoms, but we didn’t talk to each other about it,” Warner said. “We just assumed it was normal aging forgetfulness.”

It was during preparations for their mom’s 80th birthday party that they all finally realized just how serious the situation had become.

The entire family was together in Warner’s home, preparing for the event. Loud 1960s music pulsed through the kitchen amid laughter and the clatter of knives on chopping boards.

Suddenly, the phone rang. It was their mom, who told the family she’d fallen off a stool onto a concrete floor at the local bagel shop. Store employees had tried to call an ambulance, but Snoey insisted she could drive home and was fine.

“She wasn’t even really concerned, and that worried us,” Warner said.

They rushed their mom to the emergency room, where tests revealed she had been having mini strokes.She was shaken, but otherwise okay from the incident and the party went on as planned.

However, the incident was a wake-up call.

The sisters began comparing stories about recent experiences, and realized they had all seen lapses in their mom’s judgement and behavior.

They began accompanying her to doctor’s appointments, and handling her financial and legal affairs as well.

Eventually, things got to a point where Niblock had to take her car before something tragic occurred. Their mom was still able to remain in her home, but eventually reached a point where that was no longer possible.

“She left eggs on the stove, frying, and went to the store,” Niblock said. “She almost burnt the house down.”

Their mother would spend the next five years in care facilities, eventually requiring a locked memory-care facility, after she was found wandering in the middle of the street.

In her last months, Snoey stayed in hospice care. She died in the summer of 2011, just two weeks before her 88th birthday.

A few months after her death, the sisters got together and began the process of writing their book.

“We wanted to tell her story, and give examples as a how-to guide for other families,” Niblock said. “Mom liked to help people, and she would be happy we are sharing our experiences with others.”