Imagine finding out a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease — what would you do?
Nearly 16.1 million Americans provide care for those with Alzheimer’s, without pay, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s website.
Those caregivers provide an estimated 18.4 billion hours of care or more than $232 billion worth.
For a local family, the diagnosis of a loved one turned into almost half a year of hiking to raise money for the association.
Six years ago, Lauri Paeper was told her boyfriend of now 24 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Since his diagnosis, Paeper has been providing care for him. For the first few years, up until two and a half years ago, the two lived apart — her in Des Moines and him in Auburn.
“One day he was over and he just didn’t want to go home,” she said about the two now living together.
Paeper said last July she officially retired and became a full-time caregiver.
She said a lot of their time is spent going somewhere, visiting friends or else he gets restless.
There have been times where he has moved furniture during the night, thinking that he is being helpful, she said.
“It’s best to be proactive,” she said. “To avoid any problems.”
The pair also have two dogs and three cats and apart from Paeper providing care, she also has a dog walker that comes twice a week who kind of keeps an eye on her boyfriend while allowing her some time out of the house, she said.
For now, the time spent out of the house involves going through his things at his Auburn home, preparing to sell it, she said.
Once that gets done, Paeper said, she’ll go back to swimming or doing other things for herself, to give herself a break.
She said she also looks forward to times where she might be able to take a vacation while someone else stays home with her boyfriend.
Before her boyfriend was diagnosed, she said a couple of relatives of hers had Alzheimer’s but no one that she saw every day and cared for.
“It’s a real eye opener,” Paeper said.
When asked how others can help, Paeper said people shouldn’t wait to be asked for help, they should just offer help. She said things like taking him out for a couple of hours or bringing them a meal would be helpful.
“Don’t be shy about helping,” she said. “He needs the companionship.”
She knows it can be intimidating and scary for people who don’t know how to care for some with Alzheimer’s. But if that’s the case, she said, they are welcome to come along with her and see how it works.
Another big thing she wanted people to know is that people with this disease can still have fun.
She said weekly, they go to Dave’s Diner near SeaTac and sit in a window seat so he can watch the light rail, traffic and planes go by.
Paeper said she doesn’t picture him living at a facility, she would worry too much about him.
However, she added there is no shame if people go live at a facility.
Her son, Toby Gallier, began hiking the 2,664 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. His mission is to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Gallier, a Renton resident, began his estimated five month journey on April 3.
“It amazes me how long (the hike) takes,” she said. “It’s a big thing for someone to take on and raising money for the association brings more attention to it.”
Paeper said he had spent a year to a year and a half planning his hike before announcing last fall that he was going to hike the PCT.
Prior to starting the journey in April, she said Gallier spent time preparing both mentally and physically for his trek ahead.
She briefly talked about the night before he began the hike where he stayed with a couple named Scout and Frodo. They provide dinner and breakfast and tips to those starting out on the PCT. To read more from Gallier on his stay, visit his blog http://further.blog/2018/04/03/scout-frodo/.
For the most part, Paeper said, Gallier planned to hike the PCT on his own. She said he would meet up with his aunt in Washington near Chelan and other friends or family may join along the way but for the most part it is just Gallier.
Paeper also said along his way he has met others that are part of the PCT class of 2018 including a girl from Burien who he hiked with for a little bit.
In a blog post by Gallier on the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, he said his hike in connection with The Longest Day. The Longest Day is described as “the longest day of the year (where) thousands of people will join together to show their love for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.”
“While I’m sure there will be many days during my time on the trail that will feel like ‘the longest day,’ it’s nothing compared to the impact Alzheimer’s has on so many lives,” Gallier wrote in his blog.
So far he has raised $6,726 of his $26,500 goal. To donate to Gallier, visit http://act.alz.org/site/TR?px=13821187&fr_id=10935&pg=personal.
You can read more about Gallier’s journey and follow him along the PCT on his blog at http://further.blog/.