Fighting Alzheimer’s: GR to be first ‘dementia friendly’ Mich. City

Posted at 11:53 PM, Feb 08, 2016

WEST MICHIGAN – You may remember the story we first brought you a few weeks ago about Alan and Mary Beth Beamer and the couple's continued battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Mary Beth recorded her husband with her iPhone during a difficult day fighting the disease, asking questions and shedding a true light on the disease before posting it to Facebook. The response quickly went viral, still touching the hearts of people all over the world. Since then, the couple has been sharing a message of hope and love with the world.

“So if you look at this video and go, ‘Oh man, they’re crying again,’ please listen and take something from it,” said Mary Beth. “Look and see if you have someone out there who needs something.”

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, generally taking the life of the patient between eight and 15 years after onset, according to Joy Spahn, Regional Director for the Greater Michigan Alzheimer’s Association.

“This is a disease that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for it to develop,” said Spahn.

Mary Beth and Alan have been married for 20 years, taking the good and the bad as it comes. However, nothing prepared them for Alzheimer’s. They’re now making new memories as the old one’s fade away.

“You cannot imagine the different stage and the hell,” said Mary Beth.

Alan has a rare form of Alzheimer’s which is visually variant; affecting his vision as the disease spreads from the back to the front of his brain.

“You never imagine that it will happen to you and it just keeps progressing and getting worse, it’s terrible,” said Mary Beth.

He has good and bad days, but more recently taking a spill in the bathroom.

"We have realized his balance is bad,” said Mary Beth. “He keeled over into the back of the bathtub and I grabbed him so he wouldn’t hit his head, and that’s when I went with him and we flipped over. We had to see the chiropractor the next day.”

Mary Beth has been doing everything she can to comfort Alan, playing both roles of wife and caretaker; a potentially deadly strategy according to health professionals.

“Statistically, there's a lot of caretakers that end up dying before the person they’re taking care of because of the stress that’s related to that care-giving,” said Spahn. “It’s actually one of the most expensive diseases to manage. Most folks choose to take care of a person at home for a long period of time.”

Foregoing the tens of thousands of dollars for a nursing home and love on her husband, Mary Beth is one of them.

“We still are going to do the best we can until he doesn’t know me anymore. That’s the way it’s going to be,” said Mary Beth.

Their goal is to put Alzheimer’s in the spotlight, hoping their story will remind at least one person of others in need. Spahn said Alzheimer’s is one of the six leading causes of death. By age 85, 1-in-3 people will be diagnosed with the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association has proactively worked with multiple agencies, slowly turning Grand Rapids into the first ‘Dementia Friendly’ city in Michigan. Their goal is to educate attorneys, taxi-drivers, grocery stores, etc., helping others recognize the signs of dementia and assist anyone in need - whether it be help getting groceries or getting home. Spahn said it’s a slow process, but they’ve already begun implementing their program throughout the city.