By Daniel J. Vance


  So you're really struggling. You think no one cares or understands. And you're also part of a growing club: a caregiver for one of the nearly four million Americans with Alzheimer's disease.

  The disease was named after German doctor Alois Alzheimer, who in 1906 discovered tangled fiber bundles in a deceased woman's brain tissue. It's the most common form of dementia among older persons.

  Last November, Dr. Neil Buckholtz of the National Institute on Aging told me that researchers haven't found the exact cause nor do they have a cure. "[However] I am more hopeful than ever that we will have effective new treatments for Alzheimer's disease in the coming decade," he said.

  But a possible treatment in ten years doesn't help you cope now. You have tirelessly cared for your parent, and over the years watched him or her slowly lose memory, language and thinking skills. It hurts to watch.

  To learn more about one of the hundreds of Alzheimer's support groups meeting all over the nation, I corresponded with Angela Lunde, a Dementia Education Specialist with the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Mayo Medical Center. Mayo Clinic offers separate support groups for men and women caring for a person with Alzheimer's, and groups for persons with early-stage Alzheimer's and their spouses.

  Lunde said, "Caring for someone with a dementia is incredibly difficult and both physically and emotionally challenging. There is tremendous loss at each stage and often feelings of guilt."

  For this column, Lunde asked a woman in a Mayo support group to comment on her experience. "Through the support group I've gained wisdom, strength, and knowledge in the shared experiences of fellow caregivers," the woman said. "I've been able to tap into the medical expertise and resources of the Alzheimer's Resource Center via their staff, library, newsletter, and educational opportunities. I've learned about community resources like adult day care, respite, and specialized legal assistance. More importantly I've found an empathic, safe place to shed tears of frustration, anger, guilt and fear, as well as those of humor, joy and laughter. In the women's caregiving support group, I have found comfort and peace in knowing my family and I will not be alone on this journey."

  If you're really struggling, why not ask a doctor about an Alzheimer's support group near you?

  For more information about Alzheimer's, visit www.alzheimers.org or www.mayo.edu. Contact me through www.danieljvance.com.