Watching a loved one sink into Alzheimer's, dementia can be harrowing

Center says her mother, who has balance problems, still takes a bath by herself. She worries that Romine will slip and fall, but she can't get her parents to agree to any assistance with the routine.

"It's going to take an accident of some kind before my father ever agrees to get help," she says.

The stress and worry has driven Center to seek out some solace, which she gets by going to a support group for people who care for relatives with Alzheimer's. She says just talking to others who are going through the same thing can help. Her children — she has three grown daughters who live nearby — also help out from time to time.

People with Alzheimer's can live for 10 years with ongoing destruction of brain tissue, Wright says. The disease starts off with mild memory loss and other subtle problems. But then they have more and more trouble performing even routine tasks. In the end, people with advanced disease are completely helpless and mute. They usually die of an infection or some other complication.

Center has seen this dreadful progression up close: One of her aunts is bedridden and doesn't recognize her. She has stopped eating.

For now, Center's mother still lives at home but has become increasingly difficult. She puts household items in odd places. She lashes out and is sometimes paranoid. She repeats things over and over and sometimes can't remember past events — even the good times.

"I see the deterioration and it scares me," Center says. "I don't know what we'll have to go through in the future."

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