Caring for Arlene

A HUSBAND’S LOVE: Wayne Bullock leans down to talk with his wife, Arlene, while visiting her at Altercare in Big Rapids. Wayne placed Arlene in the nursing home a year and a half ago when he could no longer care for her because of her progressing Alzheimer’s and immobility from a previous stroke. (BELOW) Pushing his wife, Arlene, through the halls of Altercare is something Wayne does each day when he visits her. (Pioneer photos/Emily Grove-Davis)

STANWOOD — Wayne Bullock will never forget the day he checked the woman struggling to remember him into the nursing home.

The woman was his wife of 56 years, Arlene, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

“I think that the hardest part is just watching her die in little increments,” Wayne said choking back tears. “Just deteriorating.”

About 11 years ago, Wayne said Arlene started showing signs of dementia. The doctors put her on medication, which helped slow the disease down, but it continued to progress. She then suffered a stroke about two years after.

Wayne said his three children picked up on the bigger signs of dementia quicker than he did.

“When you’re right with them it’s harder,” Wayne said. “It was gradual, you just don’t notice as much.”

Wayne did notice Arlene seemed to be forgetting things, while his son, Paul, said he could see his mother was losing some of her cognitive abilities.

“One thing we saw is she would tell the same stories over and over again or old stories with new twists, new roles or someone who wasn’t there would be inserted into the story,” Paul said.

Wayne held off on putting Arlene in a nursing home for as long as possible, choosing instead to care for her in their Stanwood home.

But between Arlene’s cognitive problems and her inability to move the right side of her body because of her stroke, caring for her was taking a toll on Wayne.

“He went way beyond what is humanly possible and kept her in their home way longer than was good for him or mom, frankly,” Paul said. “But he did it out of love and wanting to care for her.”

Wayne wasn’t getting any sleep. Paul said Wayne was aging quickly because of the stress and looked to be in his 90s because he was so sleep deprived.

Then, Arlene took a turn for the worse.

“She was going down fairly fast at that time, but this was like ‘boom,’ and she didn’t even know me part of the time,” Wayne said.

Arlene also was having a difficult time walking and getting around.

“It finally got to where I told her, ‘If you can’t walk, I won’t be able to take care of you’ and her walking kept getting shorter, and shorter, and shorter,” Wayne said. “She couldn’t do anything on her own. I called the doctor and made an appointment to see if there was anything they could do.”

The family went to the doctor’s office, then to Altercare in Big Rapids to have Arlene evaluated for placement.

The experts said caring for Arlene was a two-person job at minimum, Paul said.

Wayne finally knew he had to do what he had been dreading — check Arlene into a nursing home, where she remains a year and a half later.

Before Alzheimer’s

The loss of personality and who a person used to be is one of the hardest things that comes with Alzheimer’s, Paul said.

Arlene was always active and loved the outdoors. She and Wayne would take their three children hunting, fishing and camping often when they were growing up.

“We’d go up to Canada for two weeks and we were off the grid,” Paul said. “We’d take a tent-camper, no electricity, no generator, no nothing. She’d take potatoes and we’d catch fish.”

“She’d feed us fish two times a day,” Wayne added.

“We rebelled when she tried to feed it to us three times,” Paul laughed.

Arlene is the only person in the Bullock family to ever get a bull elk while hunting.

When Paul got his first buck as a kid, his dad told him to gut it, but Arlene was not going to allow that.

“My mom took the knife from me right there and gutted it herself because she was afraid I would cut myself,” Paul said.

Arlene was also an accomplished musician, playing piano, organ and accordion. If it had a keyboard, Arlene could play it. She also sang in a quartet.

“She loved music and now you can’t get her to even try to sing,” Wayne said.

The process

When Wayne decided to place Arlene in a nursing home, he had no idea about the steps necessary to complete the process.

His children helped him and advised him to talk to lawyer about an asset protection management plan.

“Having an attorney walk you through process of what you can and can’t do is critical,” Paul said.

An unintended consequence of placing a spouse in a nursing home is a lot of resources the other person needs could be used up.

Paul said their attorney explained to the family that some federal laws previously took all the money the family has to care for whoever gets sick first, but then began to realize that the other person would end up being supported by the government, too.

“So they decided it made more sense to change the rules, but if you don’t know what the rules are, you don’t know how to comply,” Paul said. “A plan, a will, trust, all of those things are critical to try to maintain some resources for the person not in the nursing home so they don’t end up destitute.”

“I didn’t have much,” Wayne said. “I didn’t make big wages. It helped a lot financially.”

Now, Wayne visits his wife daily at Altercare. Arlene recognizes family members sometimes, but also has a hard time grasping the present.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is a constant downward spiral. Saying Arlene is “better” is a relative term, Paul said.

“She can’t put sentences together,” Paul said. “Sometimes they make sense, but even the sentences don’t always have relation to reality. It may be relevant 50 or 60 years ago, but not today. She’ll talk a lot about people who are gone.”

Wayne said the disease, caring for someone and then placing them in a nursing home is a tough road.

Researching resources, contacting the Alzheimer’s Association and becoming part of a support group are all things Wayne recommends to anybody in a similar situation.

“Start early,” Wayne said. “The more you can learn, the easier it is.”

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Posted by Emily Grove

Emily is the Pioneer and Herald Review crime and court reporter, covering crime in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. She can be reached by e-mail at emily@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8362.

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