By Jo Ann Pfirman, Cary, NC
My husband, Tom Pfirman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in December of 2002 at the age of 57.
This was not something we had planned for or expected to have to deal with at this time in our lives. I was not in a position to quit my job and stay home with Tom and had no idea what to do.
Tom’s doctor suggested we contact Alzheimer’s North Carolina for help and information. We made an appointment and met with them almost immediately. I’m not sure what I would have done without their caring and assistance. Our family members and friends were wonderful, but they didn’t always know the resources and answers we needed.
One of the first things I did was attend one of the caregiving classes. This was early in Tom’s diagnosis and I must say that some of the things I learned were scary, but as the disease progressed I was so glad I had attended this class because I learned so many helpful things that I actually remembered when situations they had discussed occurred.
Due to the complexity of the disease a care plan team was developed of a geriatric care manager, long-term care referral specialist and social worker specializing in dementia. They made numerous recommendations for legal and financial assistance, adult day care, long term care facilities, weekend respite options, and so much more. I always knew they were just a phone call away.
Because of the help that I received, I felt compelled to give back to help other caregivers. In 2005 we started Tom’s Team and participated in our first Alzheimer’s Walk. Tom walked with us the first year, attended the second year in his wheel chair, but passed away before our third walk. Tom’s Team has now participated in the walk for 11 years and our family team – consisting of family members and many friends – has raised over $120,000 for this wonderful organization.
Editor's note: Not all Alzheimer's caregivers are as fortunate as the Pfirmans. There is a program in North Carolina called Project CARE (Caregivers Alternatives to Running on Empty) that offers respite, support and counseling to caregivers. But the program needs more funding. It is important to let your elected leaders in the state legislature know that you support Project CARE.