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His wife has Alzheimer’s, now a Queens man has help

Adolfo Quiroz, 84, attends an Alzheimer's caregivers support

Adolfo Quiroz, 84, attends an Alzheimer's caregivers support group at Sunnyside Community Services in Queens. The group gives support to families caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. Credit: Charles Eckert

Adolfo Quiroz, 84, of Queens, describes himself as a sentimental Buddhist, who “feels what you feel” and has learned to accept his wife’s oddity of watching the television game show “Family Feud” from 6 to 11 p.m. every night.

“She is my wife of 52 years. I do my best,” Quiroz said of Germaine Quiroz, who has Alzheimer’s disease. “But she is completely a different person. She doesn’t remember.

Adolfo Quiroz has “learned to be patient,” he said after a recent meeting with his support group at Sunnyside Community Services in Queens.

“We’re all in the same boat. There are good days and there are bad days . . . one has to keep working and move forward,’’ he said. “But first, it has to be about me.”

Quiroz’s Queens group is one of nine non-profits statewide with grants from the Alzheimer’s Caregivers Support Initiative — started by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to offer counseling, support groups and other services to those caring for what the state Department of Aging estimates are 380,000 New Yorkers living with the disease or other forms of dementia.

The Parker Institute in New Hyde Park has also received initiative funding.

Vivian Morales, a caregiver specialist at Sunnyside Community Services, who leads Quiroz’s support group, said the most difficult obstacle for her 60 clients is loneliness and isolation.

“They are overwhelmed and stressed and really upset,” Morales said. “They feel alone because they have to do everything. There is no time for self-care. When they do have the time to speak to someone, there is no one around.”

Sharing in the support group has helped Juliana Cardenas, 73, of Flushing come to terms with the feelings of frustration, guilt and loneliness described by Morales as she cares for her husband, Gustavo, 83 and looks forward to calls of support from her two adult daughters.

“A phone call a day to see how daddy is doing helps a lot,” said Cardenas, who shared in the group session that at times she has forgotten how to live her own life.

“Yes, yes . . . ,’’ said the others in the group nodding in agreement.

Cardenas said the group has allowed her to openly talk about the difficulty of taking care of her husband’s every need without being judged.

“I feel like I am with family here,” Cardenas told the group. “I can say things and no one will criticize me.”

Married 53 years, Cardenas said she chose to take care of her husband at home because she couldn’t accept keeping him in his nursing home.

“What kind of life is that?” she asked in an interview. “I found him bent over in his chair . . . he was left in his urine. He wasn’t even eating because no one would open his mouth to feed him. Only a family member can give that kind of care.”

Counseling and support groups reduce symptoms of depression, help caregivers stay healthy and delay the need for families to place their loved ones in nursing homes by a year and six months, according to a study led by Dr. Mary Mittelman of New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

“Ongoing counseling support can also guide family members to interact with each other,” said Mittleman, a research professor of psychiatry and rehabilitative medicine. “All it takes sometimes is a phone call or just bringing over a pot roast to say hello.”

For Quiroz, one way to maintain his health has been to take up yoga. It’s a form of self-care that reminds him of better days with his wife.

“We use to love to dance,” he said, adding that in an impromptu moment, he still swoops his wife into his arms and dances “Un Pasodoble,” a Spanish dance step, on their living room floor.

His support group has helped him realize that while caring for his wife is an exercise in selflessness — even if it means something as banal as watching hours of “Family Feud,” — it’s also ok to not forget himself.

“I like the program too,” Quiroz said with a smile. “But a football game would be nice once in awhile.”

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