Early detection was key for Waikels

Family friends noticed the first symptoms
Sep. 16, 2013 @ 10:45 AM

It started out with little things — forgetting names or faces.

The signs were so subtle at first, that Bob Waikel himself didn’t notice.

“Some close friends really picked up on some memory (problems) that my wife had,” Waikel said. “(It) might have been names, not remembering names or faces.

“With other people it gets to ‘Where did I lay the keys down?’ or ‘Why did I put the bread in the refrigerator?’ or telling a relative the same story over and over and over. But in our case good friends of ours that happened to be using the same family doctor that we use, mentioned it to us, and the next time we were (at the doctor’s office) he said, ‘I want to give your wife a test.’”

The test, a simple set of questions with a memory drill involved, was all it took to know that something was wrong.

“(The doctor) gave her this test — basically written questions — and they’ll ask you to try to remember three words. They’ll come back in three or four minutes and ask you to repeat those words.”

Jan, Bob’s wife, didn’t do as well as he’d hoped.

“That gives them a pretty good clue,” he said.

After brain scans and tests to rule out a physical problem, patients are sent on to a specialist. From there a diagnosis is made.

Seven years ago, the Waikels found out that Jan had Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s generally being forgetful of things — some of that comes naturally with old age — but they’re getting pretty good at nailing down when it is Alzheimer’s,” Waikel said.

The dreaded diagnosis, which is among the greatest fears of most seniors, was a blessing of sorts for the Waikels — a least in terms of timing.

“I credit Jan still being able to have quite a few motor skills to early detection and getting her on (medications),” Bob said.

While the medications don’t make for a cure, or even improvement, they can help a patient stabilize.

“It tends to plateau them,” Bob said. “It’s not going to cure it, it’s not going to stop it, but it does seem to extend out on a level line rather than dropping off really fast. It’s like anything else, early detection is so important to find out what’s really going on and try to react to it.”

The Waikels have been fighting the battle with Alzheimer’s ever since, but they’ve had help along the way — close friends and Alzheimer’s Tennessee — an organization formed to help raise funds for research and assist caregivers dealing with the rigors of day-to-day life caring for people with the disease.

“They are (special people),” Waikel said of the organization. “ \We had a meeting on Tuesday, and for the most part the volunteers are volunteering for the organization because they lost a mother or a grandmother — someone close to them.

“They all have a little something in their background that makes them familiar with Alzheimer’s, so they volunteer their time and their efforts to help the program along, and help the people that are suffering from it, and their families that are dealing with it.”

After Jan’s diagnosis, Bob almost immediately began attending meeting with the group.

“When you sit down in a support group and you exchange what’s going on in your life with what’s going on in (others) lives, Alzheimer’s affects people so differently,” he said. “Sometimes it can be pretty fast. Sometimes it can drag on for years. Some people react differently to the medicines. Some of them it makes them act a little more angry maybe, a little more aggressive.

“It’s always interesting to go to one of those sessions. There are usually four, five or six families there that represent caregivers and they’re trading what they’re seeing going on in their loved ones lives, and wondering is this Alzheimer’s? Or what’s going on? I notice this is happening or that’s happening.”

That’s where some people decide to go forward with seeking out professional medical advice, which could lead to the early detection Waikel touted. And that early detection can lead to longer survival with better retention of cognitive functions.

“(Jan) sleeps well, and she can eat OK. She’s got motor skills enough to get in and out of the car and socialize and those sorts of things,” Bob said.

The Waikels spend almost every waking hour together, and Bob keeps Jan active.

“I think it’s so important to continue to do what you can do. I think it reinforces that memory,” he said. “Whatever is working there. Keep whatever you’ve got going as long as you can that’s what we want to try to do.”

The Waikels will participate in the Smoky Mountain Alzheimer’s Tennessee WALK on Saturday.