Caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s: A North Bay family’s story

Bay Area

TIBURON (KRON) — Most of the people who take care of folks who are living with Alzheimer’s are virtual saints.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Care-Givers Month.

In the North Bay, Vanessa Carter is taking care of her 85-year-old dad and that would be enough to keep her busy, but that’s just the beginning.

Hand in hand, precious moments are now frozen in time.

In January, his life was brand new.

His wife’s life, 81 years of it, was in the final months of an Alzheimer’s battle.

Both needed help with the most basic tasks and the person there for them most was Vanessa Carter.

Vanessa’s son Westley had just made her a mom and Valda is Vanessa’s mom.

“My husband and I moved back into my childhood bedroom,” she said. 

She was back in her old Tiburon home, so Vanessa Carter could be there for her mom.

 “I don’t think I took years off my life,” she said. “I think I’m still in good health but I do think I was really depressed, I was really sad for a lot of that journey with my mom.”

Her story is all too common.

Vanessa Carter’s father, Ted, is also living with the disease.

 “I’ve been diagnosed with a little bit of it I don’t know how much. But it doesn’t seem to affect me yet,” he said.

For a few years now, Vanessa’s father has been living with the same disease that took his bride of 46 years, this past July.

Though stable, and charming and witty at times, Ted Carter, a longtime attorney in Novato, is affected more than he realizes.

“Yeah you do ask questions again and things like taking ice cream from the freezer and putting it in the dresser drawer,” Vanessa Carter said. “And it sounds crazy because it doesn’t make sense.”

One of the reasons his condition hasn’t worsened faster is likely his daily trek to the Marin chapter of Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

“The social isolation and lack of a routine. It’s a no-no for cognitive health,” Vanessa Carter said.

The organization takes Tes Carter, along with others, on trips in the Bay Area. 

“They take us on field trips all over the place, all the museums in the Bay Area,” Ted Carter said. “Take us out for very good meals, we pay for them, but they do all the planning and pile us on the bus and get us off the bus and that sort of thing.”

So Vanessa cares for her dad and her baby as she mourns her mom Valda’s recent passing.

She’s also  a full time environmental literacy content specialist for San Francisco Unified School District and she’s become a leading Alzheimer’s advocate.

“I’m tired,” she said. “But I think caring for my mom was more tiring, emotionally, it was my first experience holding the sadness and it was also exhausting, setting an alarm and getting up in the middle of the night to change my mother’s diapers.”

She credits her family-first husband, Joe, for agreeing to move into his in-law’s home.

When he’s not working as a sailboat captain, he helps with baby Westley and around the house.

For this family of sailors, Alzheimer’s has meant it’s all hands on deck.

Vanessa’s taking her advocacy work to our local U.S. representatives.

“Representative Jared Huffman has been nothing but receptive, he’s been so welcoming and says yes in terms of what we ask of him policy wise,” Vanessa Carter said.

But seriously, with everything else, how does she have time in her day or week to relentlessly drive policy change?

“People may perceive that as a caregiver, how can I possibly have a full time job, a son, caring for my dad and do this,” she said. “And yet I feel it’s the only way I can do all of the other things.”

She says volunteering is the least she can do. 

“Not everyone got a good civics lesson,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to show up to the people that represent us, and to share our asks and with the Alzheimer’s Association behind us and coordinating such an effective mechanism by which to move policy forward. Volunteering is the least we can all do.”

An inspirational message from the leader of this family, who’s also a leading this fight to end Alzheimer’s.

She’s lending a loving hand wherever and whenever she can to make things better for people now and in the future.

To donate to the Alzheimer’s Association, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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