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Family

In dealing with dementia, family lives in the moment

Posted November 26, 2010 3:41 p.m. EST
Updated November 26, 2010 7:44 p.m. EST

— For families dealing with the memory loss of a loved one, sometimes the best thing to do is live in the moment. 

Dave Simpson said that was a difficult adjustment to make with his mother, Lois Shoolbred, whom he calls Lo Lo.

Lo Lo has Alzheimer's disease. Simpson invited WRAL News to capture a rare glimpse inside his family’s struggle as the disease steals Lo Lo's memories and turns her into a different person. He is also chronicling his mother's Alzheimer's in a WRAL.com blog,

While Lo Lo often recognizes Simpson and other family members, events from 10 years, 10 days or even two minutes ago can escape her.

Lo Lo's memories may take her to childhood, to her career as an entertainment producer for stars like Tony Bennett, then back to college. As Lois Simpson, she worked  as an on-air personality for WUSN-TV in Charleston, S.C., and later for a multimedia company in Washington, D.C.

"She can go from being in college and say, 'what are you studying,' said Heidi Keys, who works at Clare Bridge of Cary, an Alzheimer's and dementia care community for where Lo Lo lives.

"We just go along with that moment with her," Keys said.

Her grown granddaughter, Maggie Simpson, said, "She doesn't know what's going on in my life. She thinks I'm 15 still sometimes, which is fine. That's who she is."

Keys and Gaye Baker, also of Clare Bridge, help Lo Lo's family understand the progress of Alzheimer's.

"It's painful. It's hurtful. It's confusing. It's embarrassing," Baker said.

Dave Simpson and his wife, Denise, say it took time to accept that they were reacting to the disease, not to the real Lo Lo.

"If you get agitated, she gets agitated," Dave Simpson said.

Rather than trying to correct her or trying to lead her down another path, family members now remember that sometimes it's just better to let her have fun.

"Everyday is a happy day for me, because I don't know the difference," Lo Lo says.