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      Support groups offer haven for Alzheimer's caregivers

      Alzheimer's patients receive care around the clock, but they are not the only ones touched by the terminal illness.

      In 2010, caregivers provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care to Alzheimer's patients. And if all of those caregivers lived in the same state, that state would be the fifth largest in the country. Caregivers play a crucial role in improving the lives of those with dimentia, but they, too, sometimes need help.

      "It's very difficult when they don't remember you anymore," Park Central Director of Social Services Barbara Simms said. "It's very difficult for some people that see behaviors in their loved ones that, normally, they would never have done. People can become combative, they can use bad language, they can say and do things they never would have said before the disease."

      Different facilities in and around Amarillo offer support groups for caregivers, where they can meet with other caregivers and talk about their experiences.

      "We talk a lot about the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's," Simms added. "We talk about the stages that people go through, the behaviors they may exhibit, and just try to prepare people for what might happen and give them the tools to deal with that appropriately."

      "What we do- we laugh, we cry, we drink coffee and eat donuts," The Cottages Executive Director Lorry Parker said. "And it is so nice to know that you're not alone in this journey. This is a disease that affects not just the person who has it, but the entire family."

      Some sessions also involve patients who speak of their experiences with the disease and their fears about it. Parker said she had one patient who lost all of his friends after he was diagnosed, and he has slipped into a state of depression, as he feels alone. His wife accompanies him to the support group to learn what she can about Alzheimer's and how she can help to make her husband's life the best possible.

      "He's embarrassed," Parker said. "He's humiliated. He's depressed. And, you know, you can only imagine how you would feel if you walked into the doctor's office and you saw that diagnosis. You know, I don't know what I would do if I got that diagnosis."

      Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States- a person develops the disease every 69 seconds. Since 2000, deaths from other major disease such as stroke, HIV and heart disease have dropped, while deaths from Alzheimer's have rise 66 percent. There is no known cause, and among the top ten leading causes of death in America, Alzheimer's is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

      The numbers speak for themselves- more people will continue to develop the disease, calling for more caregivers. These men and women dedicate their time to caring for the ones they love as they watch them decline day after day. Facilities like The Cottages and Park Central want to give caregivers all the strength they need, as their loved ones need the same in return.

      "It's a wonderful dynamic because a family member or a loved one can talk about a situation they're dealing with and another family member can say, 'Hey, I dealt with that six months. Here's what worked for us. You might try this or that,'" Simms said. "And, so, it's just that they're so supportive of one another."

      Visit www.alz.org for more information on Alzheimer's disease.

      Caregiver Support Groups in the Texas Panhandle:

      AMARILLO:

      Alzheimer's Academy

      1400 S. Coulter, Suite 2700

      806-356-4637

      2nd Monday of the month- 10 a.m.

      The Cottages

      6811 Plum Creek Dr.

      Facilitator: Lorry Parker

      806-351-2271

      2nd Thursday of the month- 6 p.m.

      Park Central Alzheimer's Support Group

      The Parlor at the Park Place Towers

      1300 S. Harrison

      Facilitator: Barbara Simms

      806-337-4164

      2nd Thursday of the month- 5 p.m.

      Panhandle Regional Planning Commission

      415 W. 8th Ave.

      Facilitator: Dixie Surratt

      806-373-5315

      2nd Thursday of the month- 6 p.m.

      Seville Estates

      7401 Seville Drive

      Facilitator: Deaundes Tinner

      806-351-2105

      CANYON:

      1st Friday of the month- 12 p.m.

      First Baptist Ministry Center

      1717 4th Ave.

      Facilitator: Lorry Parker

      806-351-2271

      BORGER:

      2nd Tuesday of the month- 12 p.m.

      Golden Plains

      100 Medical Board Room

      Facilitator: Danna Jackson

      806-272-7583

      DUMAS:

      4th Tuesday of the month- 6:30 p.m.

      Accolade Home Health

      201 Binkley

      Facilitator: Chassidy Wagnon

      806-934-2000

      HEREFORD:

      3rd Thursday of the month- 10 a.m.

      Fellowship of Believers Church

      245 Kingwood

      Facilitator: Rhonda Sanders

      806-364-0359

      DALHART:

      1st Monday of the month- 7 p.m.

      Coon Memorial

      210 Texas Blvd.

      Facilitator: Nancy Chism

      806-244-8555