Sr. BOA Jackie Gostomski's father-in-law, Gus, is living with Alzheimer's disease – and so is his entire family. It's been one long fight.
After his wife died, Gus moved the six hour-distance from Erie, PA, to an apartment in Lebanon to be closer to his only child (Jackie's husband) and his young family. "Within a few short months, we went from thinking everything would be great with him closer to nonstop doctor appointments and ER visits because he said something was wrong," Jackie recalls. The struggle was just beginning.
"For a year, we fought for someone to hear us and realize there was a problem," Jackie says. "(Gus) went from driving to not being able to use the microwave or write a check. But at doctor visits, he'd pass memory tests because he knew the date, where he lives, all of it." Eventually, Gus took a more comprehensive, two-hour exam and failed the problem-solving portion miserably. "Finally," Jackie says, sighing, "a doctor agreed there was a problem."
The Gostomskis fought to get Gus the right treatment until they found a physician who managed his medications to help him be his best possible self. They fought with the ER doctor who wanted to release Gus to his apartment to live independently. They fought fatigue as they relentlessly ran to Gus’ aid even as they raised two small children and held two full-time careers. They fought desperation when Gus absent-mindedly took seven days' worth of pills in one middle-of-the-night episode.
After they had found the right assisted living facility for Gus’ personality and needs, they found themselves in a new fight, one with their emotions. They had to make the decision that their young girls wouldn't have a relationship with their grandfather. "(Gus) went through a period of anger and took it out on us at our visits," Jackie says. "Twice, my 4-year-old left in tears, and we knew we couldn't do this to her anymore. It's hard enough for adults. You can't put a child through that."
The couple fought to learn what they could every step of the way because information from medical providers was lacking. "No one told us what happens next – the behavior issues, the medical issues directly caused by Alzheimer's," Jackie says. The Gotomskis relied heavily on the Alzheimer's website (alz.org) and support line,* as well as the assisted living facility’s staff.
"Living with Alzheimer's is hard on so many levels," Jackie says. "It's not just about forgetting. It's about your brain deteriorating and everything your brain controls. (Gus’) falls turned out to be the disease attacking the part of his brain that controls that. This is not the person we have known all these years; he's somebody else. We've basically lost him already, even though he is still alive. It's hard coming to terms with that."
"Given what we've gone through, if I can learn and help someone else, that's the most important thing," Jackie says. She's now guiding another relative through her own journey with Alzheimer's in the family. And Jackie quickly volunteered to serve as team captain for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer's. In fact, the entire family is walking. "I love the ability to give back even with something as small as walking," Jackie says.
* The Alzheimer's Association® has a dedicated support line for Edward Jones: 1-844-440-6600