Larry Apodaca cared for his mother, Terry, for nearly nine years as she endured the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease. With the exception of occasional visits from a nurse, he tended to his mom on his own at home because “no one could care for her like I could.”
Apodaca, 62, now hosts a caregiver support group for Latino men, which meets at noon on the second Wednesday of each month at Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2300 S. Patton Ct. in Denver. He encourages Latinos to get involved. Call 303-813-1669 for more information.
Apodaca wasn’t familiar with the services of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado when his mother passed away in 2013, but since that time, he has become an outspoken advocate for the association, taking the message to a largely untapped audience: Latino caregivers.
“I wish I’d known about these services when I was caring for my mother,” Apodaca said. “The eye-opening piece for me is how little we know as caregivers. The education the Alzheimer’s Association provides is tremendous.”
As every caregiver knows, the act of serving as a primary source of care for a loved one is an intense experience. No one emerges unmoved or unchanged. That was certainly the case with Apodaca, who feels compelled to share some of his learnings with others and buck several stereotypes along the way.
“First of all, men aren’t likely to talk about intimate details and don’t typically form the kind of relationships that women caregivers do,” he said. “We’re also less likely to ask for help – we think we should be the provider.”
In addition to the work conflicts that many caregivers face, Apodaca spoke to the challenge of the Latino culture.
“We tend to believe we should handle things within the family,” he said.
Those combined factors left him – a single dad and only child – with the challenging solo task of caring for his mom as her condition deteriorated, leading up to her death at age 83. He eventually needed to quit his job as a director of donor relations so that he could care for her full time in his home.
A one-man support group
Since his mother’s passing, Apodaca has made a commitment to share his experiences and lessons with other Latino men. Given the 50 percent higher likelihood that Hispanics will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – and the fact that women account for two-thirds of all diagnoses – he knows there are more men like him out there.
To prepare himself with more than personal stories, Apodaca immersed himself in the Alzheimer’s Association’s catalog of educational programs to help him guide men facing a loved one’s diagnosis.
“The course on effective communication strategies really opened my eyes,” he said. “My main thing now is to point other men in the direction of these resources, so they don’t have to go it alone.”
The other value that Apodaca provides – perhaps most important of all – is an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.
In his support group, he hosts a forum to address tough questions in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
You don’t know if you’re doing the right things
“It’s almost a relief to be able to talk about the guilt you feel (as a caregiver),” he said. “You don’t know if you’re doing the right things. And when you talk with others in the same situation, you realize ‘it’s not me.’ And there’s value in learning from people who are living with different stages of the disease. It’s still intimidating, but the group helps you to anticipate what’s coming.”
While Apodaca’s experience – and his willingness to share it – is invaluable to his support group members, he’s getting something out if it too.
“It’s rather cathartic to talk about some of the issues that I hadn’t thought about in a while,” he said. “And it’s reassuring to know I did many things right.”
Perhaps the hardest part for Apodaca is knowing how the story ends. Until a cure is found, there are no survivors. But he knows that active caregivers instinctively want to look for a bright side.
“As a caregiver, you always want that glimmer of hope,” he said. “You want to think ‘we’re going to beat this,’ or perhaps that there will be a cure found before it’s too late.”
Apodaca understands the guilt that caregivers can feel after the passing of their loved one – the guilt of feeling relieved. And after being a full-time caregiver, he realizes he must find a new purpose for his life. For now, he is focused on helping other men just like himself.
Again, Apodaca’s caregiver support group for Latinos meets at noon on the second Wednesday of each month at Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2300 S. Patton Ct., Denver. Call 303-813-1669 for more information.
In addition, join AARP Colorado on June 22nd for an informative event, “Aging in the Latino Community: The Impact of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia en Nuestras Familias.” This event, hosted at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, features Dr. Luis Medina, an expert on Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll also hear from a panel of experts as they share helpful caregiving advice. So mark your calendars for June 22, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. For more information and to register, call 800-272-3900.
[Photo courtesy of Larry Apodaca and Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado]