by Mark Millican
(Ed. note: The following article about Alzheimer’s disease appeared in the Dec. 23, 2011 edition of The Daily Citizen of Dalton.)
When Eddie Mowles’ wife Priscilla was handcuffed and arrested for shoplifting four years ago, the reality of her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease “really hit home.”
“I said, ‘Priscilla, let’s have Christmas early this year and go away somewhere,’” Mowles said last week. “She said OK, and then called me one evening — it was the 23rd of December — and said, ‘Come get me, I’m in jail.’ And she didn’t know why. I jumped in the car and went up there and they said, ‘We got her for shoplifting.’ She had ordered some sandwich trays for the early Christmas gathering, put them in her basket and just went out to the car. They called the police, the female police officer frisked her, and (Priscilla) begged them not to handcuff her but they did anyway.”
Once the misunderstanding was straightened out, there was another setback — when they got to Cherokee, N.C., for their getaway, Priscilla immediately wanted to go back home.
“That’s one of the signs, people suffering from Alzheimer’s don’t like strange places,” he said.
Mowles labeled Alzheimer’s “the cruelest thing you’ll ever face.” Tuesday was a “tough day,” marking one year since he had to place Priscilla in Morning Pointe Assisted Living Center and Alzheimer’s Memory Care Center in Calhoun.
“It was in February of 2010, and I had been keeping her at home,” he recalled of how the disease progressed. “I knew it was something I could handle — tough Eddie, you know? I didn’t want to put her in a home. We woke one morning like we always do at 5 a.m., but that morning she looked at me and said, ‘Who are you? Get out of my bed!’
“At that point, 40 years of memories were gone.”
Mowles said he became “the nice guy” to his wife, the guy who came by to see her from time to time.
“She said I was nice but she didn’t know me,” he lamented. “I was a stranger in my own home.”
‘Thought I could do it all’
At that point he decided to talk to Renae Gentry and Freda Stephenson at the Alzheimer’s Association office in Dalton, where he had done volunteer work for 10 years.
“The first thing they said was to take care of myself,” he recalled, “and I said, ‘Bah, humbug, I don’t need to take care of myself.’ I thought I could do it all myself. Never in a million years when I was helping out did I think it would happen to me.”
Gentry and Stephenson suggested Mowles admit Priscilla to a hospital so she could be medically evaluated, and he relented.
“I took her to Erlanger North (in Signal Mountain, Tenn.),” he said. “I’ve lost two brothers to cancer and I thought that was tough. But leaving her there at the hospital is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. They said I couldn’t see her for two weeks, but every day — and sometimes twice a day — I drove to Signal Mountain and looked in the window to make sure she was OK, (to see) if they were taking care of her. They said, ‘She can’t go home.’ We live on a lake with a pier and the house has stairs in it.”
Mowles said he needed help, and he turned to the Alzheimer’s Association again.
“Freda and Renae let me come by the office to talk, to cry,” he remembered. “I lost my appetite — lost 40 pounds — and lost my sense of humor. But worst of all, I lost my wife.”
Mowles says his wife’s plight, and his own, is also a cautionary true-life tale.
“Guilt will eat you alive,” he advises those struggling with a loved one’s dementia. “You keep trying to convince yourself you did the right thing.”
Surrounding oneself with the right people — which he’s done with the Alzheimer’s Association and the staff at Morning Pointe — is critical.
“People who know about the disease can help you,” he said. “Early on, the hardest thing a caregiver will ever have to do is take their car keys away from them. That takes away their independence.”
But Mowles has also been proactive, speaking to groups about dementia in an attempt to raise awareness.
“I don’t mind talking now,” he said. “I want people to be understanding of the condition — I want the grocery stores to be aware of it, I want the police officers to be aware of it. I want people to be aware of what all of them are going to be facing in one fashion or another in their lives at some point. It’s a sad, sad, sad thing, and used to be something people didn’t want to talk about.”
Mowles said every 69 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and when he was at the state Capitol lobbying for Alzheimer’s awareness a marble was dropped into a glass jar every time 69 seconds elapsed.
“After the day was up I looked in that jar and saw all those marbles and realized, ‘My God this is an epidemic!’” he said. “If this is something you’re facing, get help.”
The Alzheimer’s Association number is 800-272-3900, and rings into the Dalton office at 922 E. Morris St. from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The association’s website is www.alz.org.