Saturday is 'The Longest Day' for the Alzheimer's Association
LAWTON, Okla._It's a cruel disease that robs you of your memories and then your body, bit by bit…Alzheimer's.
Currently more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease and every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's.
Bill Melton has always been a cowboy, a jokester, a family man, and for the past 31 years he has also been Angela's husband. And like most American couples they spent their lives working and raising a family and even made time to operate their demanding farm and ranch. But three years ago, just as they started to plan for retirement, Angela says there were signs something inside bill was changing.
"It was the college kids, they would come home and they'd say what's with your dad? It was little things to us, you just think he’s well, we all just forget things or do things," said Angela Melton.
The couple spent the next three years in and out of hospitals until one day a doctor gave them the devastating diagnosis. Bill had Alzheimer’s.
"He got in the car and said my life is over, and he didn't talk," said Angela.
Bill's once sharp mind soon became so fogged he could no longer work.
"That first year and a half was pretty rough, he wanted to work and couldn't work and that was a big hurdle to get over," she explained.
As Bill learned to cope with the disease, so did Angela.
"I knew to have patience, but I learned patience at a different level," said Angela.
Her love and patience was unwavering even when put to the test.
"Am I your lover? Am I your wife,” asked Angela.
“Huh,” responded her husband Bill.
“Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
“Who says that?”
“See, he’s not understanding what it is that I'm saying.”
“How's your mother?"
She started making him lists of his day to day schedule, where to go and what to do. And for a while Bill followed the lists until he couldn't remember much at all.
"It takes your memories, he remembers things he knows, various people. He's forgotten things, he'll ask me who I am, I'm his mom now sometimes," explained Angela.
But Angela says as she watched her life partner slip from her world, she decided to step into his.
"We tend to want to try and get them to come back to where they were and be the person they were, that's not going to happen. You have to accept that and go to their world and that works so much better," said Angela.
Angela says the disease has changed their lives and with it, they've adjusted.
"I don't go to Walmart with him very much, that just doesn't work. I lost him one time and I'm running around the store, like a little kid you can lose him in two seconds because you're reading a label and they're gone," said Angela.
But she says while Bill may no longer have the independence he once knew, even in its advanced stages the disease hasn't stripped him of it altogether and neither has she.
"He'll dress himself, but it takes longer now. You say ‘put your jeans on’ and you might hand him his jeans 14 times and he lays them over here and says ‘what's next?’ But he'll eventually get his jeans on in the morning, so I don't take over dressing him, we assist but I give him enough time to do it," said Angela.
And Angela says while she knows she and Bill have a long road ahead, she'll patiently journey along side him....in search of a cure.
Saturday, at the Center for Creative Living in Lawton, they're celebrating 'The Longest Day', with activities and events starting at 8:00 in the morning. In addition to hearing presentations from the Alzheimer's Association, there will be games going on, including the card game Bridge. Studies have shown playing Bridge promotes healthy mental aging. So Bridge clubs all over the United States and Canada will be sponsoring events like this one.
It will wrap up with a closing ceremony at 5:30 p.m. and it's open to anyone.