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SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2007

Amanda Duffield, left, who operates the Athens-Limestone Alzheimer’s/Dementia Support Group, with Bertha Stone at the Athens Senior Center.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Amanda Duffield, left, who operates the Athens-Limestone Alzheimer’s/Dementia Support Group, with Bertha Stone at the Athens Senior Center.

Alzheimer’s support group in Limestone in life struggle
Meeting attendance down in recent years

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Seeing Janice Clem and Bertha Stone gently sway back and forth on a wooden swing on the Athens Senior Center porch, and then hearing them giggle, one would think they are best friends.

They are, but it’s more than that.

Stone is Clem’s 87-year-old mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. They live within two miles of each other in the Sardis Springs community.

“The disease has actually brought us closer because we see each other every day,” said Clem, who brings her mother to the center for activities.

Stone, perched on one end of the swing, said a doctor tested and diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s years ago.

Clem, perched on the swing’s other end, corrected her.

“No, Mom, it was last year that you were diagnosed.”

“Oh, well, it feels longer than that,” Stone said, unperturbed.

“She gets time mixed up,” Clem said. “Time has no meaning for her anymore.”

What really matters

That is unimportant to the pair. What matters, they said, is that they are open with each other and that Clem takes care of herself as well as her mother.

She does that by attending the monthly meetings of the Athens-Limestone Alzheimer’s/Dementia Support Group. There she can find information about the disease, vent her frustrations, share ideas with other caretakers and find sitters for her mother.

Clem is worried, however, because the group’s attendance has dwindled. It once had up to 30 attendees. That number has dropped to five.

Amanda Duffield and Sharon Griffis operate the support group.

For Duffield, it is a family tradition. Her grandmother, the late Polly “Big Mama” Porter, became group leader in 1985 when she had a friend diagnosed with the disease.

After Porter’s death in 1995, her daughters, including Duffield’s mother, took over until 2005.

“When Big Mama died, I swore I would not let this support group die with her,” Duffield said. “I’m going to keep it going until the money and the attendees stop coming in.”

The group operates solely on donations.

Attendance started dropping after Porter’s death, Duffield said.

Clem said it’s hard for some people to admit a loved one has the disease, which also keeps attendance down.

“I think some people are in denial, but you need to come out of that shell,” Clem said.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Stone added.

Clem has depended on support groups throughout her life. She is a cancer survivor. She lost a 16-year-old son to muscular dystrophy. Her first husband died of a sudden heart attack after 44 years of marriage. Now, she and her second husband, Homer, are caregivers to her mother.

“Maybe some people are scared to know what they’ll face with their loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Clem said. “My brother in Texas still won’t face up to the fact Mom has it. I know the disease will make it worse on her. She’s already started getting more forgetful in the evenings, but I want to know everything there is to know, and I make sure I keep her informed, too.”

It appeared that honesty has worked for the two. Stone is not bashful about discussing the disease. When she realized she was becoming forgetful a year ago, she underwent memory tests, such as naming presidents and animals.

“They wanted me to draw a circle, triangle and square,” Stone said. “I kind of drew a circle but couldn’t do the other shapes. When the doctor diagnosed me, I said, ‘This might get me, but it’s going to have a
fight.’ ”

Clem prepares her mother’s daily pill dosage and takes her to doctor appointments. She has taken over her mother’s checking account but still shows her mother what bills she has paid.

“I’m actually glad I don’t have to fool with that anymore,” Stone said, laughing.

Help from others

Stone said she also is glad her daughter can attend support group meetings to find comfort and help from other caretakers.

“I know this is hard on her,” Stone said. “If sharing my story can help one person, can get one more person to come to the group meetings, it’s been worth it.”

The group meets on the fourth Monday night of each month at 7 at the Senior Center on Pryor Street. Duffield said those who want information can call her at 232-6775.

“I look at what the group has done to help Janice and her mother, and I want that for all the others like them in our county,” Duffield said as giggles erupted between Stone and Clem again.

Stone shared a memory she said Alzheimer’s likely won’t make her forget. When Clem was a child, she slipped out of her mother’s sight to pick blackberries.

“I looked all over for her,” Stone said. “I even looked in an old well. A lady heard me calling for Janice and told me where she was. I thought I’d lost her, but there she was just a-picking those blackberries.

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