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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Dementia Diagnosis: A Caregiver's Story

November 3, 2010

By Wanda M. Shedd, Caregiver

Army Veteran Hubert McCarty  and his daughter Wanda Shedd

Army Veteran Hubert McCarty (middle) and his daughter, Wanda Shedd, meet with Mark Kunik, M.D., M.P.H., a psychiatrist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “VA health care and VA research have provided me with the knowledge and resources necessary to cope with my father’s disease,” said Shedd.
PHOTO:  Bobbi Gruner, Public Affairs Officer

I am a caregiver for my 84-year old father, Mr. Hubert McCarty. We are originally from New Orleans, La. but moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Before the hurricane, my father lived independently, worked every day, was self-employed, and did fine.

While living with me in Houston as time passed, I began to notice a change in his memory. Since he is a veteran of World War II, I brought him to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to be checked out. This is how and when he was diagnosed with dementia.

Entering into caregiving I thought would be easy. I am energetic, very active with few worries or problems. So, I thought I would be fine. I could adjust.

But very soon, I discovered I was not adjusted or fine or able to keep up with his changes. I had concerns and problems. How do I take care of him? What about me and my emotions? My mental ability to cope? What about my stress, strain, denial, anger, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, exhaustion, social life, some depression, and now health problems? Who do I go to see? Where do I go? Mainly, how do I get help for both of us?

I went back to my dad’s primary care doctor at the DeBakey VA. We were quickly referred to the Partners in Dementia Care (PDC) Project with Geropsychiatrist Mark Kunik, M.D., M.P.H. and his outstanding team.

An innovative partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Alzheimer’s Association, the goal of PDC is to work together to improve care and outcomes for Veterans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as well as their family caregivers.

PDC is a wonderful and very informative program. It has been so helpful to my dad and me by giving me a specific action plan to help with a wide variety of issues and problems. I joined a support group to talk with others like myself, found an adult care program, and received education about future changes I could expect with my father.

I was connected to the right people and to great informative resources and services: the Alzheimer’s Association, Houston-Galveston Area Council Area Agency on Aging, elder care, First Alert, AARP, Medicare, home-delivered meals, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, and so many others.

What amazed me the most about PDC was the continuous telephone calls; all to see how things were going and to offer help to me at any time. They were not only concerned about my father, but about me, too. I am always kept abreast with the latest developments and feedback. When I have a particular concern, it is addressed promptly. I would recommend PDC to all who care for an elderly Veteran. The staff is full of love, care, and affection.

This program has had a tremendous impact on our lives. It has helped me to realize you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice. And that I don’t have to be strong by myself.

Note: The Partners in Dementia Care Project is funded by the Houston VA Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence.