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home : community : community news August 22, 2017

4/20/2017 7:29:00 AM
'It's not like something you can go get fixed': Alzheimer's Association member shares family experience
Memories and Melodies fundraiser April 22

Kayla Breese
Feature Writer

The Alzheimer's Association will host the 15th annual Memories and Melodies fundraiser April 22 at Holiday Acres. Social hour is set for 5 to 6:30 p.m. with a buffet dinner of herb-baked chicken and carved roast top sirloin at 6:30 p.m. Dave Drivas will perform during the social hour.

The fundraiser is open to the public at a cost of $45. Proceeds will go to the Alzheimer's Association to support local programs and a portion of the ticket price is tax deductible.

"We have support groups, we have Memory Cafes, we do caregiver classes, we meet with families one-on-one, we help them obtain diagnosis, so we do a lot of things in the community," said Julie St. Pierre, community outreach specialist with the Alzheimer's Association.

There will be many raffles and auctions during the event. In the silent auction there will be a hand-crafted bookshelf from McNaughton, among other large ticket items. The basket raffle includes such prizes as a wine basket, beauty, casino packages, Brewers, Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, gardening, and more.

"It's just amazing how generous the community is and just the variety of prizes that we've got, there really is something for everybody," St. Pierre said.

This event typically draws 140 people.

"It's one of the two big (fundraisers) that we do," said Paul Hagen, a member of the Alzheimer's Association.

Hagen said he thinks it is important to support research for this disease.

"Cancer is - I believe - the number one fundraiser in the country at the time and Alzheimer's is like fifth, even though Alzheimer's potentially will affect more people than even cancer, with the Baby Boomers headed toward that age, so it's really important that we have money raised for research on all these things," he said.

Alzheimer's and dementia require 24/7 care, and unless a cure is found, it will be costly to the economy. To purchase tickets for the event call (715) 362-7779.

Registration is available to the day of event, but to guarantee a spot register earlier.

Difficult journey

Hagen has a unique perspective on the toll Alzheimer's takes on families, having watched two important women in his life struggle with the disease.

Both his mother, Norma Hagen, and his mother-in-law, Fern Hasselquist, were diagnosed around the same time, he said.

The women died 25 days apart, in January 2015, about two years after being diagnosed.

Hagen and his wife, Jan, did the best they could to care for their mothers.

Both women were widows living in their own homes and help was hired to assist Paul and Jan so that their mothers could stay in their homes as long as possible.

It was hard to watch the once vibrant women change, Hagen said.

"It's extremely difficult to watch somebody that you've known all your life as somebody that was always busy and always had everything meticulous," he said. "Both of them kept clean houses, they did all these things, never misplaced things, always knew where everything was and then they get to the point where they lose their checkbook."

Hagen said his mother lost her checkbook, then she started hiding it because she thought someone was going to steal her money and it would take him anywhere from a day to two weeks to find it.

"She'd hide money in her towels, she'd hide money in a little round desk in a different bedroom, all these kinds of things, and then on top of those things she still wanted to drive and I couldn't let her drive anymore, I've seen enough stories on TV where people drove someplace and couldn't remember how to get back home," he said.

He had to disable her car so she wouldn't drive anywhere and Hasselquist's car was sold to prevent any driving incidents.

Hasselquist's Alzheimer's manifested itself differently. She never left the house.

"She put up signs in the window that said 'help,' well when someone came to find out what was wrong with her she was just lonely and wanted someone to talk to," he said.

Hagen said he became very familiar with the fire department, because whenever someone saw the sign they'd call for help and the firefighters would check it out.

"I got to know all the firefighters real good, because they can't leave until somebody would come up there," he said.

Hasselquist's reluctance to leave the house also made going to appointments difficult, he added.

"That was like pulling teeth," he said.

As they were both juggling work and family responsibilities, the Hagens appreciated the assistance they received from professionals.

"(Both women) had people helping them during the day then when we became available we would take over and if we had to I'd stay nights at both places," Paul said.

When her disease became too advanced Norma Hagen was moved to Friendly Village. Hasselquist was eventually moved to a different nursing home.

"My mother, she was a very kind person but when Alzheimer's came she struggled with it, there were days she let me know how unhappy she was, but that was part of having to make sure she stayed safe," he said. "I don't think either one of them (realized they had Alzheimers)," he added. "My mother was a little more combative. She didn't understand why she couldn't stay in her own house and didn't really understand that (it was) because of some of the things she'd done. I mean one night she was standing outside in the middle of the winter waiting for me to pick her up and I was not coming to pick her up. Luckily somebody came by and got her back into the house or I don't know how long she would have stood outside."

Another thing that was devastating was watching his mother "meet" someone she already knew, knowing them before she went to bed and waking up the next day and "meeting" them all over again.

The helplessness of watching loved ones slowly deteriorate and knowing there is no cure for their disease weighed heavily on the Hagens.

"It's not like something you can go get fixed, and that makes it really, really hard on people because you can't fix it. Where you may be able to fix things all your life no matter what, a sprained ankle, a bloody nose you could always fix that and your mother could always fix it for you, but once you have dementia or Alzheimer's there's no fixing it, you just can't do it."

"There were many days I walked out of there (the nursing home) feeling just like I couldn't control anything anymore," he continued. "Everything I did was never going to be enough anymore. So it was very difficult to do those kinds of things, watch it happen right in front of her and having to put her in a home well then that starts the guilt things because every day when I walked out of the Village after I visited her I felt guilty that I couldn't do a better job."

A strong support system is vital for caregivers and because both of their mothers were suffering from the same disease at the same time, the Hagens were able to be there for each other in a unique way.

"I've got a great wife, she was rock-solid for me and I was the same for her," he said fondly. "We both understood it and helped out each other tremendously. If you're lucky enough to have that it's a really great thing, let me tell you."

Hagen said he utilized the various groups and individuals associated with Alzheimer's and dementia, and was glad he found them.

"There is help out there," he said. "Julie at the Alzheimer's Association is fantastic."

He also mentioned that there are support groups such as the Memory Cafe, which offer those with memory problems and their caregivers a place to relax and socialize. Caregivers can also use that time to run errands or do something for themselves while their loved one is in a sage place.

"If you're there (caring for someone with Alzheimer's) 24/7 it is difficult, plain and simple, extremely difficult to do that," he advised. "You need to be able to get away and get a cup of coffee or do something for that hour, hour and a half. You just can't be there non-stop because it will wear on you tremendously."

Hagen also recommends people watch the PBS documentary "Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts."

Kayla Breese may be reached at

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