Raleigh woman battling Alzheimer's 'on last leg of her terrible journey'

Posted May 28, 2014

— 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."


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  • Greg Boop May 29, 2014
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    This is a powerful article that opens the door to the realities and tragedy of Alzheimer's which is normally hidden away.

  • Taffy May 29, 2014

    My thoughts and prayers are with Lo Lo as well as you and your family. My mother is also in the end stage of Alzheimers and the woman I have loved and honored is no longer inhabiting her body. But I still visit the shell of the woman who was so important to me and my family. God Bless......

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 29, 2014

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    Amen Beth, Amen!!!
    It's like attending a funeral of a dearly loved one, that lasts for years and years.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 29, 2014

    Sad and tragic!!!
    Our dad was affected by Alz for almost 20 years. He spent the bulk of that time at home being cared for by our sister and her family, until he became abusive and combative (one of the stages) at which time, we had to institutionalize him.
    Through the years, I learned the truly devastating thing about the disease is that as it steals the memory, it also steals the love that was in those memories, and leaves the victim not only often afraid and thinking they are all alone , it leaves them thinking they are unloved, maybe never have been loved, and that's heartbreaking because there is nothing a loved one can do to reassure them; no matter what you do, they don't remember you or any love you have or ever had for them.
    It broke our hearts to see him like that.

  • Mariann Byknish May 29, 2014
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    Blessings to the family , friends , care givers and this wonderful woman. All have traveled a long road and the journey will be remembered in all aspects. May the way of her future be Kind to her and her family.

  • cyauch May 28, 2014

    Thank you to the family for sharing this touching journey

  • Sherrill Craig May 28, 2014
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    My mom has Alzheimer's...Her mother had it. This is my third go around with it. It is hard. On the patient and the caregiver...

  • Randy Smith May 28, 2014
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    My dad has Alzheimer's. It is truly a sad thing to watch. It takes a toll on the entire family.

  • Beth Pearce May 28, 2014
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    The long good-bye. Heartbreaking.

  • takenly May 28, 2014

    I have been down every road and watched the same decline, and watched my mother mercifully slip away last year after a five year battle with dementia and Alzheimer's. A year later, I really only remember the good times and put those last years in a mental file to help others. You will do the same. God bless you and her....