By Nyesha Stone
As of 2019, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2050 those numbers are projected to reach almost 14 million. Currently, this is a disease that is unpreventable and incurable.
Alzheimer’s not only affects the individual diagnosed with the disease, but their loved ones as well.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Marty Schreiber and former Wisconsin sportscaster Paul Braun came together to discuss Alzheimer’s and the importance of caregivers during Alzheimer’s Awareness Night at Miller Park this past Friday, Aug. 9.
According to a press release, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the nation. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Both men took on the role of caregivers to care for their wives who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Schreiber’s wife, Elaine, has been living with Alzheimer’s for about 14 years, and Schreiber had spent four years caregiving with no help. Schreiber and Elaine were high school sweethearts and, it drains Schreiber to see his loved one die a little bit each day.
He thought he was doing all that he could to make things easier for her, but for a very long time he struggled to accept the “new Elaine.”
“You don’t want to lose that person,” said Schreiber. “You try to pull them into your world [but] it’s impossible because they’re in their own world.”
Now, Schreiber simply wants to be there for his wife even though she doesn’t remember who he is. Every day he comes to Luther Manor to feed her during the morning and at lunch. Since Alzheimer’s disables functions in the body, Elaine can no longer feed herself or walk.
At the age of 80, Schreiber is just as busy as he was when in office. When he’s not with his wife, he’s on the road giving speeches and advocating for the awareness of Alzheimer’s. He also wrote a book, “My Two Elaines” about his experience with being a caregiver, which included notes his wife wrote throughout her journey with Alzheimer’s before she completely lost her memory.
One of the biggest regrets Schreiber has was not getting help sooner. He said a caregiver is doing their loved one no good if they aren’t taking care of themselves first.
“As a lifeline, they have to keep themselves strong,” said Schreiber. “If you don’t get help that lifeline will fray away and then you have nothing.”
Braun spent the end of his career being a caregiver for his wife, Karen, and eventually made the decision to retire to take care of her fulltime until her death on Oct. 2, 2015.
Before Karen was diagnosed, Braun said he didn’t really understand the disease. It’s emotionally and mentally devastating, he added. Eventually Braun couldn’t take care of his wife anymore so he got professional care.
“Quite frankly you can’t handle it anymore,” Braun said about seeing a loved one suffer from such a disease. “I broke a promise.”
It broke Braun to put his wife in a facility because that was the one thing she requested of him not to do, but he had to do what was best for the both of them.
In the honor of his wife, Braun founded “Birdies to End Alzheimer’s” in 2018, is a fundraising program designed to support five causes within UW Health and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Braun and Schreiber know that they aren’t and won’t be the only ones to go through a similar situation, which is why they share their experience.
For more information on Birdies to End Alzheimer’s, visit https://www.birdiesforhealth.org/.
To purchase My Two Elaines, visit https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/my-two-elaines-martin-j-schreiber/1126389922