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Readers reach out to Alzheimer's patients, caregivers

Karen Henley sits by here husband Mike at

Karen Henley sits by here husband Mike at Winthrop Hospital. He was brought in because he was having seizures at home. (May 22, 2008) Photo Credit: File / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The offers started coming in Sunday morning. As readers picked up Newsday and saw Karen Henley's story of caring for her husband, Mike, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 36, many felt the need to do something, anything, to ease her burdens.

"The most surprising fact about all this is how much people really care," said Karen Henley, who lives in Westbury. "Everyday people, who are struggling themselves, just want to reach out to help. I didn't think that many people cared about Alzheimer's disease, but I think Mike's age shocked everyone."

Henley, along with her two children, Courtney, 18 and Brandon, 16, has been caring for her husband for eight years. Now in the later stages of the disease, Mike is immobile and nonverbal, unable to feed, wash or dress himself. Sunday's story, the first in a Newsday series on Alzheimer's and caregiving, gave readers a look at life inside the Henley home, including the financial and medical struggles.

Readers reacted. Visits to Karen's blog have skyrocketed since the story ran. The family has already received money as well as meals. There have also been offers to come by and help with Mike Henley, walk the family dog, clean the house and go grocery shopping. Newsday has also received many phone calls and e-mails from people wanting to help the Henleys with money, food, clothes, adult diapers - even Courtney Henley's tuition costs at Hofstra University, where she is a freshman.

"I am deeply touched that so many people have reached out to express their comfort at seeing the love and compassion my family has for Mike," Karen Henley said.

Local Alzheimer's groups have also seen an increase in phone calls and e-mails since the series started, with some looking to help the Henleys and others seeking information and advice for their own situation.

"The Newsday articles have come up in our caregiver and client support groups," said Tori Cohen, a social worker at the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation in Port Washington. "Caregivers have expressed the hope that the heightened awareness from the articles might lead to positive action to help families living with the disease, particularly surrounding the financial crunch that many caregivers experience."

A woman wrote Karen that she understood the need for "many hands" to help carry the burdens she faces and offered to help with the cooking, cleaning and shopping. A man called Newsday to say that he has terminal cancer and is living on food stamps but, after reading about the Henleys' struggle, wanted to donate whatever he could spare, since he too knows about struggle.

"What amazes me always is that the people that don't have are the people willing to help," Karen said. "Younger families face unique obstacles and hardships and I sincerely thank everyone, from the bottom of my troubled heart, for trying to lift our burdens."

Those looking to help the Henleys or any of the other families featured in Newsday's series should earmark their donations for a specific family and send them to the Alzheimer's Association, 3281 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Suite E13, Ronkonkoma, NY 11779, or call 800-272-3900.

>>UPDATE: Click here for an update on the Henley family today

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

>>MULTIMEDIA: Click here to see videos, interactive graphics, more stories of Alzheimer's patients and caregivers, timelines and more

Join us at noon on Thursday, Nov. 5, at newsday.com for our next live chat about Alzheimer's disease. Until then, scroll down and click on the box to read the questions and answers from our previous chat.

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