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Living with Alzheimer’s diseasePhoto:192866,left;

Rhonda costa-landers

n most days, you’ll find Annette Bennett and her husband, Buck, in the living room of their Mound House home.

On Wednesday, Buck’s attention was on the birds at the feeders outside the window. Annette talked about her life with Buck, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

“The symptoms started in 1992, when we were living in Medford, Oregon,” Annette said. “It was just little things, like not remembering where his keys were. Buck was like that for about two years.

“Then, we were preparing a rental in a four-plex. Buck kept redoing the same things he had already done. It usually takes two weeks to get the duplexes ready – this time it took two months.”

Buck, 74, gazes at photos of family members whom he no longer recognizes. He sometimes refers to his son, Curtis, as his brother. Annette says they look nothing alike. Their other son is Rodney.

“The worst part is not being able to have a conversation with him any longer,” she said. “He was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, and he doesn’t remember any of it.”

The Bennetts have lived in Mound House since 1996. Annette is Buck’s primary caregiver. He began receiving care from St. Mary’s Hospice in September. A volunteer provides respite care for Annette so she can run errands. An aide helps bathe Buck; a nurse and a social worker visit once a week. A pastor from the Virginia City Presbyterian Church also visits.

“I never thought I’d be a caregiver,” Annette said. “Not in my life. But Buck and I took care of his aunt for a while; she had Alzheimer’s. And I saw the same signs in Buck I saw in her. That’s how I knew (he had Alzheimer’s).”

There is no medical test to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s. The only positive proof is by autopsy. There is no cure or medicine to stop or slow its effects. There are four drugs that may temporarily improve or stabilize memory and thinking skills in some individuals.

“There are tests doctors do to help them diagnose the disease, and then they can be put on medication. But generally, it’s another illness that comes along and takes them. Right now, Buck is very healthy. His heart is good, and he has a good pulse. But it’s something like pneumonia that will take them.”

As Annette talks, Buck shifts his arms from across his chest to the arms of the chair and back. When asked if he ever feeds the birds, he replies, “I’m not going to tell you,” with a wry smile.

“I’m not sure he recognizes me sometimes,” Annette said. “He sometimes calls me ‘Mom’ or ‘Grandma.'”

Annette recommends that anyone with a family member with Alzheimer’s should attend support group meetings.

“I resisted (going to a support group) for years,” she said. “Then you hear similar stories and get information on how to help them and yourself. It’s good to know you’re not alone.

“I have to take one day at a time. Buck will not get better – he continues to decline. All you can do is wait, take care of them, and love them. I can’t dwell on it. This is my life.”

This is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month.