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Woman gives hugs, support for Alzheimer’s caregivers


Frances Cooper (right) looks through a scrapbook with Alzheimer's patient Ernestine Moore and Moore's husband, Weldon. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Jan. 10, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)        

It's not unusual for those who care for Alzheimer's patients to shed tears the first time they attend a support-group meeting at First United Methodist Church.

The group's leader, Frances Cooper, 87, feels their pain. Her husband, Stanley, died in 1990 after a four-year struggle with the mind-debilitating disease.

"I just had a passionate determination (to) help someone else that was going through the same things that I did," Cooper explains.


Frances Cooper (left) hugs Lorene Cox
at a support group meeting.
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

Members of the support group include sons and daughters, and husbands and wives of those in various stages of Alzheimer's. While they compare challenges, some of their loved ones sit in a nearby room, struggling to play simple games.

Hugs for all

"I greet everyone with a hug and they leave with a hug," Cooper says. "The touch is important."

Caregivers discuss medical treatments. "There's no cure, but there's hope," Cooper reminds them. She also advises them to make time for themselves.

Caregivers compare the progression of Alzheimer's disease to a light bulb slowly dimming, until loved ones can no longer recognize their closest family members.

"You lose them entirely, but you lose them slowly," says Janet Sherwood, whose husband, Bob, was an engineer for an aircraft company. He now suffers from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

"This person disappears in front of your very eyes," Sherwood says. "And all you can do is love them and care for them, and make sure that they don't hurt themselves."

Tio Marchesseau says her husband, George, is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He is now in a nursing home.



The support group for Alzheimer's caregivers meets at First United
Methodist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.  
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

"We've been married 57 years (and thought) that we would spend our last years together," Marchesseau says. "And it's hard not to be with him. And he doesn't realize that he has a problem and I can't take care of him; I have difficulties of my own."

Marchesseau says the support group has helped her during challenging times. "Words can't tell you what we all think about Frances," she says. "She is such a compassionate person and caring and follows through, and cares for you even at other times, not necessarily meetings."

Between meetings, Cooper often phones members of the support group or drops by their homes.

"To get to know the people individually makes a major difference, because then you feel freer to express your feelings," says Weldon Moore during a home visit by Cooper. "That's the thing that Frances has done so beautifully." Moore cares for his wife, Ernestine, who has Alzheimer's.

Award for public service

Cooper was named a 2006 Jefferson Awards winner for local public service in the Dallas area and she attended an awards presentation in Washington D.C. She says she was proud and humbled. "I actually don't expect an honor or an award," she says. "It's what I do. It's what I want to do."

As she reaches out to caregivers, Cooper remembers the first signs of her husband's illness and how she dealt with its progression. "He was trying to read the newspapers, and that's the first thing he did every morning before he went to work. And he handed it to me and said, 'Read this to me. I can't read it.' And that was the shocker."

Cooper shares with the support group what she told her husband after tests confirmed the diagnosis of Alzheimer's. "We sat hand in hand and said, 'No one's done this to us. We have not done it to ourselves. It's this way now, and together we're going to handle it the best we can.'"

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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