Family focuses on hope on Alzheimer's Longest Day

Posted at 7:27 PM, Jun 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-21 22:27:20-04

Alzheimer's cases are growing at an alarming rate in Arizona, meaning thousands of middle-aged children are now caretakers for ailing parents.

"I feel like there's nothing wrong with me," said 62-year-old Mitchell Collier.

Collier's unawareness is part of his disease. He has a form of dementia, which robs his mind of people's names, many memories, and frequently confuses him. He was diagnosed two years ago and had to move in with his son's family in Goodyear.

Dementia is a group of conditions characterized by impairment of brain functions. The best-known form is Alzheimer's disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Arizona has the second fastest growing Alzheimer's population in the nation, and it could increase by 43 percent in the next six years. 

The Collier family now has three generations in one house. Doubling care duties for David Collier and his wife, Valerie.

"You are definitely raising an adult man who thinks he is the king of the castle, and then you do have a young man who is growing up in all of these things," Valerie said.

Once simple tasks for Mitchell, like bathing, become challenges. 

"We really don't know if he's actually getting in there and using soap," David said. 

"But we know he gets in the shower, and that's half the battle," Valerie added.

Over time the Colliers learned to manage. They found a trick for smoother communication.

"It's the phrasing," David said. "Never say 'no' to someone that has this disease." Instead, the family tries a combination of suggestions and distractions.

The Alzheimer's Association urges people to learn the 10 signs of Alzheimer's disease. They include memory issues that interfere with daily life, confusing time and place, and changes in personality.  The association also has a 24/7 helpline at  800-272-3900. 

Caregiver advocates say early diagnosis is important because it gives families time to plan. This includes discussing future medical care, drawing up powers of attorney, and making financial arrangements. 

The Colliers hope other families know they are not alone, and they take time out from caregiving duties to just love the person.

"[Mitchell] is more of a joy to have than not," Valerie said.