Raleigh woman battling Alzheimer's 'on last leg of her terrible journey'
Posted May 28, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — For the past decade, Dave Simpson has watched Alzheimer’s disease slowly take his mother from him. Now, at nearly 84 years old, Raleigh resident Lois “Lo Lo” Shoolbred is “on the last leg of her terrible journey,” Simpson says.
“She’s had a number of bad falls, and she’s just not doing well,” he said.
WRAL News profiled Shoolbred in 2010 after Simpson allowed cameras to capture a rare glimpse inside his family’s struggle with the memory-snatching disease.
During an interview with WRAL reporter Cullen Browder in 2010, Shoolbred patted him on the shoulder and smiled as she talked. She stopped several times, forgetting who Browder was, to ask his name and why he was at her home.
Shoolbred later told Browder that she believed the year was 1971 and that she lived and worked in Washington, D.C.
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 rocker Robert Plant, country star Willie Nelson and crooner Tony Bennett.
At times, her long-term memories emerged 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 during her 2010 interview.
Yet, her short-term memories faded in seconds.
WRAL News watched as Shoolbred charmed visitors during the day and warmly held their hands and doled out compliments. But, like many who suffer from Alzheimer’s, her mood often plummeted into agitation or depression when the sun went down.
“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 wandered away. She once walked into traffic after escaping from a nursing home and said she wanted to die, according to Simpson.
“Alzheimer's and dementia just basically rob people of all their dignity,” Simpson said during the 2010 interview. “(We try to) enjoy the good times, because as things progress – as things regress – the fewer good times there can be.”
Simpson recently made the difficult decision to bring hospice care to the Wake Assisted Living, where his mother lives, to help with end-of-life care and support.
“I looked at her, and I could see in her eyes the terror and confusion, and that’s about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “She’ll look at me and say, ‘Why am I here? Why don’t you take me home?’ And that’s tough.”
Peggy Smith, director of Wake Assisted Living, says she has seen Shoolbred steadily decline.
"Some good days, some days that aren't so clear," she said. "I think what we're all striving to do is help Lo Lo have the best moment she can, to let her know she's loved, she's supported, she's not alone."