Family shares struggle with mother's memory-stealing disease

Posted November 17, 2010

— In Lois Shoolbred’s mind, it’s 1971 and she lives and works in Washington, D.C. The 80-year-old Cary resident, affectionately known as “Lo Lo” to her family, is caught in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I can't remember all the things I did,” she says, during a fleeting moment of clarity.

Lois "Lo Lo" Shoolbred Behind-the-scenes: Lois "Lo Lo" Shoolbred

Shoolbred’s son, Dave Simpson, invited WRAL News to capture a rare glimpse inside his family’s struggle with the memory-snatching disease, which started affecting his mother six years ago. He is also chronicling his mother's Alzheimer's in a blog, "Life with Lo Lo."

“Alzheimer's and dementia just basically rob people of all their dignity,” Simpson said. “(We try to) enjoy the good times, because as things progress – as things regress – the fewer good times there can be.”

More than 50 years ago, then-Lois Simpson worked as an on-air personality for WUSN-TV in Charleston, S.C. Balancing career and family, she went on to become a multimedia company producer in Washington, D.C., planning shows for the likes of rocker Robert Plant, country star Willie Nelson and crooner Tony Bennett.

At times, her long-term memories emerge with remarkable clarity.

“(I used to say), ‘Good evening. It's Friday night at the movies, brought to you by Morris Sokol Discount Furniture, right here in downtown Charleston,’” Shoolbred recalled.

Yet, short-term memories fade in seconds. During an interview with WRAL News reporter Cullen Browder, Shoolbred stopped several times to ask who he is and why he was at her home. She lives at Clare Bridge of Cary, an Alzheimer's and dementia care community for seniors.

During the day, Shoolbred charms visitors with her engaging personality as she warmly holds their hands and enthusiastically doles out compliments. But, like many who suffer from Alzheimer’s, her mood can plummet into agitation or depression when the sun goes down.

dementia Memory loss affects entire family

“Then it gets real ugly, and she says things that are not nice and she uses profanity,” Simpson said. “The only solace I have there is that's not her. That's the awful disease. That's not her.”

At times, Shoolbred wanders away. She once walked into traffic after escaping from a nursing home and said she wanted to die, according to Simpson, who lovingly tends to his mother, no matter the mood swings.

Dementia has also robbed Shoolbred of many connections to her loved ones. When she can't remember something, she often makes up stories and “picks up pieces of conversations and puts them in her conversation,” said her daughter-in-law, Denise Simpson.

“I don't want to see her wither away to that,” Denise Simpson said. “But I'm not going to focus on that, because I enjoy every day.”

In the coming weeks, WRAL News will continue to follow Shoolbred and explore more of her struggles, where to find care and support, warning signs and medical advances.


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  • shannontbradsher Nov 23, 2010

    I'm so sorry you have to watch your loved one go through this. I know exactly what you're going thru. My grandmother suffered with this terrible disease for WAY too long, to the point that she eventually became a vegetable depending on others to feed her, etc.... It was very had to watch my Grandmother, who had practically raised me and many other grandchildren and her own children having to be dependant on others.
    What you are doing is letting others that are goign through this that they are not alone in their feelings and struggles with this disease. Hang in there and stay strong knowing the person your Mom was and deep down still is!

  • loveshhi Nov 22, 2010

    Dear Simpson Family, Thank you so much for sharing your heartbreaking story about beautiful LoLo with all of us. It is very obvious that you love your Mother so much and are trying to educate others about this horrible disease. Everyone will be affected by Alzheimer's Disease or another form of vascular dementia during our lives. My father has dementia due to a vascular disorder and it is devastating to our family. We try not to dwell on the negative aspects of the disease and are happy to have him in our lives.
    As for the negative comments from "benhers", it is very obvious that he has not been there. Thanks to "bryantksue" for bringing that to our attention. It is certainly a sad day when someone cannot understand and appreciate the kindness in your heart that motivated you to try to educate all of us about this insidious disease. It does not matter if you gave us new information. Sometimes our burdens are easier to bear if we know that we are not alone in our struggles.

  • bryantksue Nov 22, 2010

    Dear Dave,
    Thank you for sharing....sorry that you have to hear negativity from the person below. Apparently, beenhers has never "beenthere". Those of us who have parents going through this understand and appreciate your support. We have no less respect for LoLo. My mother always said, "if you don't have something good to say, don't say it." I think that would be a good lesson for "beenhers". I will pray for "beenhers" to get rid of the anger and negativity.

  • beenhers Nov 19, 2010

    This whole article and video feel exploitive. If this woman was such a bright, fun, loving professional woman, why do you want to show her in this undignified way? Alzheimers is a common disease. One of my mother's friends has it, and I learned everything you "taught" in this piece just by talking with my mother about it. You gave us NOTHING OF INTEREST except to evoke sympathy for your plight. We learned NOTHING NEW, NOTHING...just feels exploitive. I feel so sorry for Lo Lo because she's being exploited and doesn't even realize it. Pathetic

  • terrie3 Nov 18, 2010

    My 88 year old grandmother lives with me and has been diagnosed with advanced dementia. It is a challenge every day to see someone you love so much struggle. Your family is in my thoughts. I've also started a blog to chronicle the challenges faced when you become a caregiver. Please feel free to check it out - Terrie

  • Hater like Darth Vader Nov 18, 2010

    What was this article about?

  • Anneleise Nov 18, 2010

    Our thoughts and prayers go out to this family. Altzheimers & dementia are the most cruel things to watch a loved one go through. May God give you all the strength and peace you need.

  • Pumpkin Nov 18, 2010

    Once dementia hit my mother-in-law, she past shortly after. She was the sweetest woman and mother-in-law anyone could have wanted to have, but once that sun went down, her personality changed. She also started cursing and this was something you would have never heard come out of her mouth. It is so hard watching your love ones going through like that. All we can do is pray for patience and do all we can do to be there for those going through.

  • ppstep Nov 18, 2010

    My mother died in 2002 at age 71 after a long and terrible 17 year battle with Alzheimers. It robbed our family of peace and normalacy, leaving my sister and I to wonder, could one of us be next? My mother went through every stage of the disease and yes her personality changed with each stage. When she became conbative and started hurting my Dad, we decided it was time for a controlled home environment for Alzheimers' patients. During the last two years of her life, chronic health issues forced us to place her in a full skill care nursing facility. The last 5 years of her life she did not know any of her family. It hurt to not be able to sit down and talk to my Mama about everyday events or to ask for her advice. My Dad was great and I love him dearly for taking care of Mama and being there for her everyday. I know his hurt was greater than mine, because he lost his wife, his soulmate at the time he could retire and start enjoying life. The reality is that disease impacts the l

  • Boostershot Nov 18, 2010

    @ ghimmy51: You're not helping. All you're doing is seeking pathos for the sake of the morbid viewers who secretly gloat that it's not them. You people need to get a grip on reality.

    The ugliness of this disease and the lives affected IS REALITY. You need to get a grip. I hope and pray that no one that you know or loved ever comes down with this horrible disease.