Family takes on Alzheimer’s together

Living at the lake is “just another day in paradise”. That’s the favorite saying of Duane Wachholz, 76, who lives on Roy Lake near Nisswa with his wife, Pam, and 17-year-old daughter, Bailey.


“As soon as Duane was diagnosed, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the disease,” Pam shared, “and once I got this information, it was a lot easier to see where he was coming from. Education is so important and I can’t stress it enough!”

In 2008, Pam noticed mood changes in her husband. “He became frustrated and angry much easier,” she recalled. “But I was quite sure he had Alzheimer’s when I saw an Aricept commercial on TV that gave the ten warning signs.” A visit to doctors in January 2009 confirmed Pam’s suspicions.

Bailey, a senior at Brainerd High School, is going above and beyond in her mission to bring awareness of the disease by focusing on children. She has visited many elementary and middle schools where she speaks about Alzheimer’s and helps children to understand this disease that has stricken 5.4 million people in the U.S. That number will increase as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

Bailey explained that most children today have grandparents who may have Alzheimer’s, not a parent whom you live with 24/7.

With help from the Alzheimer’s Association, she has developed an educational program that focuses on first through eighth grade students.

“I keep it very basic for first and second graders, simple so they don’t get confused,” she said. The students ask her many questions including, “If my mother forgets to turn the light off, does that mean she has Alzheimer’s?”

When speaking to teens and adults, she uses a PowerPoint presentation, “The Basics”, provided by the Alzheimer’s Association and answers questions such as what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Bailey created her own website shortly after her father was diagnosed that is titled, “Remember Me? Alzheimer’s Through the Eyes of a Child.” (http://beonthemove.weebly.com.)

On her website she states, “My Dad is not just another statistic. He’s my Dad, and although it’s frustrating at times, I’m going to do whatever I can possibly do to help him and many other children in my position.”

Bailey’s mission to educate is two-fold – she wants children and teens to learn about the disease and she also uses it as her platform in scholarship pageants she has entered since she was 13 years old.  She is the current 2012 Miss Minnesota Outstanding teen and participated in the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant held in Orlando, FL, in August.

During the summer months, Bailey’s schedule was filled with appearances in parades, area community pageants, in addition to speaking about Alzheimer’s at community and charitable events.

“I have found that by speaking and educating other people has not only helped the people who are affected by Alzheimer’s, but also myself,” she states on her website. “Being out in the community has helped me realize that I am not alone, and that there are others who are going through the exact same thing. This is what drives me to keep going each and every day even when I feel like giving up.”

After Duane was diagnosed with the disease, Pam admitted, “One of my main concerns was to get support for Bailey as there is nothing out there for kids (regarding Alzheimer’s).” Bailey’s efforts have surely calmed her mother’s fears.

The mother-daughter team helped to form the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s held at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd every September with this year’s event set for September 22.          Taking part in the walk for the past four years, Bailey has personally raised $20,000. Duane, Pam and Bailey were the honorary chair members for the 2009 walk. Pam and Bailey also started a support group for adults and children that held its first meeting in June at the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa.

Through all Bailey’s efforts to promote awareness of the disease, she received the 2010 Champion award from the Minnesota/North Dakota Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Duane, born and raised in Waconia, served in the Marines from 1954-1956. He worked as a music salesman for Pickwick International traveling throughout the United States and Great Britain.

“Nearly every one of the music companies went belly-up,” Duane remembered, “and it was all due to technology like the Ipod.” He retired in 2006.

He and Pam, who have been married for 17 years, lived in Waconia on the farm which was designated as a Century Farm. Duane’s son is now the fourth generation to live on the property

Duane and Pam met on the Mississippi River as Duane was an avid boater and owned four boats at one time. His favorite was a 1959 Carver Mahogany, which his son, Steve, restored and now enjoys. He has three children from a previous marriage and two grandchildren who refer to Pam as “Pama”. The couple also had a cabin on Agate Lake near Nisswa which they enjoyed so much that they decided to move to the lakes country and purchased a home on Roy Lake in 1999.

Since his diagnosis, Duane is not as active as he used to be. He’s unable to work on his boats, do carpentry work or to just “putsie” around.

“Duane has always been the money manager of the family,” said Pam, “but in the past six months we have been doing the finances together.”

Duane still cares for himself and drives the car to familiar places. He has lost some of his strength but is otherwise in good health. He was put on Aricept when he was diagnosed and is also on Namenda. Both medications do not cure the disease, but help to lessen the loss of memory, attention span, reasoning, language, and the ability to perform simple tasks.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is not a specific disease. It’s associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is one of the many types of dementia and it accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases.  Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information as the disease usually begins in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer’s advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes; and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Looking at the days and months to come, Pam said, “I don’t like the uncertainty of the disease. The hardest part is not knowing where will Duane be. Every day is different, some are good and some are not so good. It’s just the fear of the unknown.”

The cost to treat the disease is growing due the increased number of people who have the disease.  The Alzheimer’s Association reports that death from Alzheimer’s increased 66 percent between 2000 and 2008. Deaths from other major diseases decreased, including the number one cause of death, heart disease.

Bailey, an honor student who hopes to become a broadcast journalist, said that Alzheimer’s is the most under-funded disease of the top ten diseases that kill people in the U.S. Her initiatives to fight Alzheimer’s are focused on education, advocacy, and support.

“At first my platform was just a platform for a pageant, but now it’s my life,” she concluded. On her website, she states, “Although I do not know when my Dad will fully lose his memory, I do know that I will not stop fighting for a cure for Alzheimer’s until there is one. When there is one, I will not stop raising awareness . . . Together we can end Alzheimer’s.”

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