danvance_120In a telephone interview, 52-year-old Marsha Irvin of Grove City, Ohio, reflected on what has helped her cope with her father having Alzheimer's disease: "He has enjoyed this life and I know God is watching over him. We have put it in God's hands. There's nothing we can do now except be supportive. We all have our moments when we cry and think he isn't ever coming home from the nursing home."

Affecting five million Americans, Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, gradual onset, fatal brain disease that causes memory, thinking, and behavioral challenges. It's the nation's sixth-leading cause of death.

As for Irvin's 77-year-old father: Donald was a Methodist minister more than 40 years in Ohio before retiring in 1998. A doctor first began suspecting something when, following a 2006 hip replacement, Donald couldn't remember the year when asked. He thought it was 1989. Soon after, his wife began driving the family car because he would lose his way. On another occasion, Donald drove off impromptu in the middle of the night and his wife had to call police to begin search efforts.

Two years ago at home, he suddenly began falling down and each time his wife had to call the life squad for help. They soon decided a nursing home was their best care option. He has been using a wheelchair since entering the facility, likely due more to his having diabetes than Alzheimer's disease.

Said Irvin, "We wonder how much he knows at any time, but we can see he still enjoys life. Yesterday he had a bad day; today a good day. Some days he can swallow and eat fine; other days my mom has to take him away from the table because he starts choking."

Irvin's mother has been a pillar of strength, said Irvin, staying with her husband every available hour every day of the week. She has been there to prompt him into what to do and often reminds him to test for diabetes. Probably the Irvins' biggest test has been the financial strain of having to pay $7,000 a month to a nursing home and of having a special wheelchair built to increase Donald's comfort level.

She advised children of an affected parent: "The best thing is to realize Alzheimer's disease isn't their fault. Just be patient, don't criticize, and be there for them."

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Daniel J. Vance is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC).