Hearts that care

  • Friday, August 29, 2014

In spite of the compounding challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, the Simmons Family of Murrells Inlet focus on laughter, love and are thankful for the support of hospice care. From left, in their home, Jimmy, Mike, Jayne and Thelma Simmons.

Thelma nodded in agreement. A familiar story was being told of the time the family dogs wrapped the furniture with her yarn.

In ways only mischievous dogs can do, they got into her knitting basket and mayhem ensued.

As her daughter-in-law Jayne recalled the amusing story, Thelma’s smile coincided with the outbursts of laughter filling the room.

“Then there was the time the dogs got a hold of her custom-fitted prosthesis,” Jayne remembered, “and proceeded to leave teeth marks!”

Eighty-six-years-old and a long-time breast cancer survivor, Thelma pointed to her mouth as if to stress the dogs’ intent to devour it.

A dimension beyond

But Thelma Simmons is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed in 2007.

Her brain has deteriorated, no longer able to call memories to mind. Her language skills are reduced to incessant babbling, a behavior pattern that tends to occur in the later stages of this ravaging disease.

Like Simmons, patients with Alzheimer’s often communicate confusion, boredom, paranoia or fear through mumbling, babbling, or moaning.

The nonstop chatter can be bewildering, causing nightmares for family caregivers.

The extent to which the disease exacts its’ huge toll on the patient and family, however, cannot be understated.

Nevertheless, Simmons’ devoted husband, Jimmy, and her family recognize her deteriorating communication skills. Regardless, they continue to speak to her regularly and share memories often. There is laughter.

And smiles.

And this is good for everyone.

Little is known about the comprehension level of a patient at this stage, but, in this moment, Simmons’ expressed an understanding and her family delighted in the humor of the shared memory.

Family bonds

Married almost 68 years, Jimmy and Thelma Simmons grew up, married and lived in Scottsville, Kentucky, running an insurance agency before retiring, travelling some, and finally relocating to be closer to their son in Murrells Inlet.

Mike and Jayne Simmons were anxious to have his parents close by, particularly since Mike was raised as an only child after the death of his younger brother at the age of 7.

When Thelma started repeating questions and forgetting things, the family learned that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

As Simmons’ disease progressed and her care moved beyond her husband’s ability, the close knit family made a decision to move together into a custom built home designed to provide continued independence and the dignity the couple deserved.

Compassionate and respectful, their son and his wife are the kind of family caregivers every aging or ailing parent deserves.

Determined to help his parents through the compounding challenges of Alzehimer’s disease, Mike stays home to provide the support they need while Jayne works as a paralegal.

Having experienced the benefits of hospice care while both of her parents were suffering with terminal illnesses, Jayne knew it was time for additional help, finally contacting a local hospice.

And together, this tightly bound family, along with the professionals at Hospice Care of South Carolina, continue to laugh together at all the experiences of a wonderful life lived.

Cindy McLaughlin is a health care consultant. She can be reached at 843-457-8545.

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