By LISA WHALEY
General Manager & Editor
The struggle to care for a loved one takes its toll, but Tracey Kendall Wilson is determined to provide a way to help Jonesborough “care for the caregiver.”
“My grandmother is the one who opened my eyes to the fact that Alzheimer’s disease exists,” said Wilson, who is the regional director of Alzheimer’s Tennessee, Inc. “They called it senility back then.”
At that time, she said, her mother, father and aunt helped care for her grandmother in a three-story building they all shared.
Today, Wilson said, doctors understand more about the disease, but the journey one walks with Alzheimer’s is every bit as long.
That is why she has become such a strong advocate of support groups, such as the Alzheimer’s Support Group that currently meets every second Tuesday at the Jonesborough Senior Center.
“It’s a perfect place to realize you are not alone,” Wilson said. “That really bizarre, terrible thing that happened that you are sure has maybe never happened to anyone else in the entire world — it has happened to five people who are sitting at the same table with you.”
The group, she said, is designed to help caregivers – whether husbands, wives, daughters or son –manage a situation that most never imagined being in and with nuances and challenges that can seem never ending.
“Sixty-nine percent of the time, a caregiver’s health will fail before the person with the disease fails,” Wilson said. “Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be a very long journey. And there are so many changes and there are so many almost deaths along the way.”
Through the support group, she said, caregivers have often found the strength they need to carry on.
Sometimes, Wilson said, help comes in the form of education and guest speakers. At other times, the group simply provides families with a safe place to share struggles and possible solutions.
“People have to have an outlet,” she said. “And they have to have a confidential place to share.”
Each group, she said, whether in Johnson City, Elizabethton or Jonesborough, sets their own format to meet their particular needs.
“I’ll never forget this gentleman in Blountville who told me one day, he would really like to talk to someone but he couldn’t get into sitting around and crying,” she said with a smile. “I’m not doing to tell you that there aren’t ever tears, because sometimes there are, but if we so, we use those tears as an empowering tool.”
Wilson also stressed, “Whatever is said in the caregiver support group meeting is kept in the caregivers support group meeting.”
Wilson believes so strongly in their value, she is doing everything she can to get the word out. What once was a belief tied to a memory of her grandmother has now become her passion.
“I always thought that I wanted to work with children,” Wilson recalled with a shake of her head. But one afternoon, at a local assisted living facility, it all changed.
“One of the residents was in a wheel chair and she wheeled up to me and we had the best visits,” she said. “I had that light bulb go off with “This is it. This is what I want to do until there is no longer a need.”
Right now, she wants to ensure that the hand reaching out to Jonesborough caregivers is grasped in return.
“One woman told me that an Alzheimer’s Support Group was a club that we never wanted to join but we’re glad it exists when we need it,” Wilson said.
In Jonesborough, she said, that group is ready to help.
Founded in 1983, Alzheimer’s Tennessee works to provide family support, and community and professional education, while also acting as an advocate for the needs and rights of those with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and more. For more information, visit www.alztennessee.org or call the Senior Center at 753-4781.