Tom and Jan’s Alzheimer’s Journey
Story and Photographs © Robin Rayne Nelson/ZUMA
Jan sleeps a lot now. Alzheimer’s disease has taken a toll on her body as well as her brain. She woke slightly and tried to respond to Tom — with words that were unintelligible except to Tom. He smiled and gently kissed her cheek, something he does constantly through the day.
Tom and Jan met nearly fifty years ago. They were high school sweethearts and married a few years later surrounded by rural Indiana farmland. He worked for several newspapers on the huge printing presses. She raised their two children. They moved to Georgia in the mid 1980s.
Jan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago at age 63.
“I’m 67. I had retired, but Jan’s condition was getting worse. She became very combative and restless. She did things that worried me, like putting our small dog in the refrigerator. The dog was fine. She was in and out of the hospital as her doctors tried to find the right combination of meds for her. The only solution was to place her in the nursing home. I went back to work to try to pay for it.”
The monthly costs were more than he could manage. Tom fell behind in his mortgage payments and nearly lost his house.
A few months ago, an infection left her unable to walk. She lost weight and slept most of the day at the nursing facility. Tom’s early-morning printing press job had dwindled to just a few days a week.
“It just made sense to quit the job and bring her home.”
A hospice nurse visits several times a week to help bathe Jan and check on her medications. Tom devotes most of his day to caring for his wife. His daughter and niece provide care when Tom needs a break.
“It’s better that she’s home now. I can take care of her and spend time together,” Tom said.
Tom watches Jan as she sleeps during the day on a living room sofa. He anticipates her needs, makes her meals, prepares her medications, changes her diapers and does all he can to make her comfortable. The television is usually on, tuned to a news channel with the volume turned low. Some days he has soothing Christian music playing.
“The doctor says maybe she has six months. Nobody knows. I just take it one day at a time. She’s the love of my life and every day we have together is precious.”