Courtesy of BayCare
Editor’s Note: During more than 50 years of marriage, a couple definitely gets to know each other. So it was with Peter and Judy Laz of Redington Shores. When Peter began to notice gradual changes in his wife, he knew they needed help. After having her evaluated, he realized his greatest fear – his wife had Alzheimer’s disease. Peter tells their story.
Judy was born in January 1947 in New Haven, Ct. I was born in October 1946 in New Brunswick, N.J. At a very young age, my family moved to Long Island, N.Y. That’s where Judy and I met. I even took her to my senior prom. After we married in 1969, we wound up living in Greenport, N.Y., at the very end of Long Island.
We both earned our livings as teachers. Judy was an elementary school teacher for kindergarten, first and second grades. I was a high school biology and marine science teacher for 37 years. Judy taught for 35 years before retiring. In her spare time, Judy loved to bake wonderful desserts. She also did needlepoint and crewel. I like to ride my motorcycle and skeet and trap shoot. I’m still an active SCUBA diver in the Caribbean.
We’ve been married for 53 years and have three children, two boys and a daughter we adopted from Korea. They are all in their 40s and live in different states around the country.
We had been married for more than 40 years when I began to notice a change in Judy. Her memory loss was very gradual – just little things that were lost or forgotten. If you talked with her, she was quite lovely. But after five minutes, you would notice that she was starting to repeat herself.
In the fall of 2010, I had her tested by her neurologist and she didn’t do well. My reaction to her Alzheimer’s diagnosis was that it validated my observations. Her grandmother on her father’s side had dementia. I still believe there is a genetic component to this disease. I don’t think our family initially believed the diagnosis but as time passed, they realized it was correct.
At the time we were still living in Greenport, but we would spend winters at our beach condo in Redington Shores. At first, I tried to provide her care by myself. After retiring from teaching, I got my Coast Guard captain’s license and worked for Sea Tow for 10 years. In my spare time, I chartered my boat and specialized in nighttime striped bass fishing. But as Judy’s Alzheimer’s progressed, I had to give up that job.
Having access to memory care has helped Judy and our family immensely. In Greenport, I started her in a town-sponsored adult daycare that provided breakfast, lunch and a snack – first for two days and then going to five days a week. They played bingo, sang and did projects very similar to the ones Judy used to do with her kindergarteners. When we were in Florida, I would send her to an adult care facility in Seminole each day.
The Greenport day care had a support group twice a month. I started going to it and got a lot of valuable information. When we came back to Redington Shores, I looked at the Alzheimer’s Association website and saw Celisa Bonner’s BayCare website. Celisa is the coordinator for the Madonna Ptak Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Memory Disorders Clinic. At that time, the caregivers met in one room and the Alzheimer’s patients met in another.
The Memory Care Group at the Madonna Ptak Center helped in so many ways. First, I was advised to go to an elder care attorney to help with legal necessities such as power of attorney, a health care proxy, a will and a do not resuscitate order. I did this first in New York and then, two years later, in Florida.
Second, I learned many tips that helped me in her care. I learned that I didn’t have to shower her and wash her hair every day. I was told about dry shampoo. I got a bracelet with her name, address, my name and phone number. I later had a GPS tracker that I would tie to her belt loop. I got a camera in the condo and could listen and talk to her as she could not use the phone.
In 2018, after selling our New York home and moving to Redington Shores, I put Judy into a full-time memory care facility. It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. But I not only did it for her – I did it for me! I was her only caregiver every hour of every day. I was running out of energy, and then patience. Finally, I felt myself getting angry and that wasn’t fair to either one of us. I would advise caregivers not to wait to send loved ones to adult daycare and memory care so that they can take advantage of all the wonderful activities that are offered.
I still go to the support group to pay back by helping people just starting on the Alzheimer’s journey. The Camp Caregiver Weekend, sponsored by the Memory Disorders Centers and foundations at Morton Plant Mease and St. Anthony’s hospitals, was great fun. Meeting people with a common problem and sharing solutions was a great learning experience.
I also would advise anyone who thinks their loved one might be suffering with memory loss to have them evaluated sooner rather than later. When I cleaned out Judy’s car to be sold, I found notes in the center console with directions on how to get to her friend’s house, the grocery store and the mall. Look for the signs and get help. And remember, you’re not alone.
The first step to providing the right treatment to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is having the right diagnosis. For more information visit www.alz.org.
Join the Alzheimer’s Association and Baycare on Saturday, October 8 at Poynter Park for Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Pinellas County presented by BayCare. Register today at act.alz.org/baycare.