Comforting Alzheimer's caregivers

Karen Henley spending some quiet time with her Karen Henley spending some quiet time with her husband Mike at their home. Mike Henley is in the last stages of Alzheimer's. (December 4, 2007) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Conrad Williams

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Newsday profiled six families in its series on Alzheimer's disease and caregiving. Since the series concluded earlier this month, the families say they have been inundated with phone calls and letters from neighbors, long-lost friends and family as well as complete strangers. Many have offered money, meals and other forms of help.

In addition, Alzheimer's workers from across Long Island have reported a surge in the number of calls and e-mails they have received since the series started running. People are looking for information and guidance, they said.

Below are some of the responses that the families said most surprised and touched them.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Karen Henley said she has been humbled by all of the offers of money, food and other assistance that have come her way. Among the offers: A neighbor she had never met held a garage sale and gave all of the proceeds to the Henley family, and the residents of Sunrise Senior Living in Plainview are making and selling Thanksgiving centerpieces as a fundraiser for the family. All of the positive feedback has inspired Karen to take part in the Alzheimer's Association's Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., next year to lobby for more funding for Alzheimer's research. "What touches me the most is that almost every person has said how much of an inspiration our family is for them," she said. "It's comforting to know, that even when I am having a really bad day, I can at least know in my heart, that I have given hope to someone else."

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OLD FRIENDS REACH OUT

Harriet Garzero said the series has "unleashed waves of encouragement, support, prayers and comfort" to her and her husband, Edward. The couple has heard from neighbors from 35 years ago, their granddaughter's teacher in Vermont, a scenic artist who worked with Edward years ago and even the owner of the paint store in Manhattan he bought supplies from decades ago. They've also had strangers approach them with questions about the disease, and even gifts: The Consolation Ministry of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Port Washington sent a beautiful hand-knit lap robe for Edward and a knit prayer shawl for Harriet, with a note assuring the couple of their prayers.

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OFFERS OF ASSISTANCE

Dorla Walker received an e-mail from a nurse who had read her story and who remembered Dorla's father from a hospital stay. The nurse offered to help in any way she could. People from her church have also offered their assistance as well as words of encouragement. One woman who is related to a home care agency administrator is looking into getting her help at night. "I strongly believe we [caregivers] have brought forth such an awareness to this disease," Dorla said.

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THANKS FROM A CAREGIVER

Lynn Decker was surprised at the number of e-mails she received from total strangers. One of the most touching, she said, was from a woman who works in a nursing home who thanked Lynn for allowing such an intimate look into their lives. "I have always tried to be the compassionate caregiver to both my patients and their families as well as an educator," the woman wrote. "Your piece in a few pages said everything and did everything I have ever hoped to do in my career."

EDUCATING OTHERS

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Gloria Richmond has been amazed at the number of people who have contacted her to say they didn't realize everything she was going through taking care of her husband. She said many people have commented that, until they read her story, they did not know "all of the things that happen with the person with this disease and how it takes the best of them" and how much stress it is on the caregiver. "I hope they were able to get something out of it, that they know now," she said. "At the beginning, I didn't know anything, I was lost, so I hope this helps someone."

ADMIRATION FOR DEVOTION

Bob Schreibman said he has been "in shock" over the phone calls and letters he has received. A 16-year-old from Long Island called to tell him how much he admired his devotion and care for Marge all those years. The two spoke for some time and the teen asked if he could call again in the future to check in on him. Not long after, Bob received a call from a woman telling him that she had read parts of Bob's story to her father in Florida and the man realized that he knew Bob from their time in the Army. Bob and the man had not spoken in 63 years but they recently talked on the phone, sharing old memories and vowing to get together in the spring.

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see the impact of early-onset Alzheimer's on one LI family, the Henleys

>>PHOTOS, VIDEOS and FLASH: Alzheimers on Long Island, the love and the heartbreak -- Six families opened their doors to Newsday journalists for nearly three years

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