WASHINGTON - There were signs that something was wrong long before the diagnosis was made. But Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and his family initially dealt with his wife Christa Beverly's illness on their own.
The first signs of memory loss appeared more than two years ago, when Baker was still a candidate for the office he holds now. Baker debated whether he should continue to run, but doctor encouraged him to continue, saying the campaign was actually helpful to Christa, who had always been a sounding board and partner in Baker's political career.
When they got the diagnosis of early onset dementia, Baker recalls his wife became agitated and lashed out at the doctor.
"She cursed him out," he says.
Follow-up tests were scheduled, and that was it. Baker left the office shaken, and feeling a little lost.
Yet, even recalling that difficult moment, Baker, who is upbeat by nature, jokes.
"The good and bad news is, ten minutes after we got to the car, she'd forgotten all about the incident," says Baker. "The bad news is, I didn't know where to turn."
Soon, he found somewhere to turn, and it came as the result of his wife's previous generosity.
As his Christa's condition worsened, Baker took over some of the things she'd always done, including the family finances. In the checkbook, he noted the list of organizations to which his wife regularly donated.
Among them: the Alzheimer's Association. Baker contacted the group.
"They were terrific - that website was phenomenal."
Baker indicates he was a bit resistant to going public. He and his three children had tried to manage his wife's illness and mood changes on their own. But it soon became too much.
"You really do need to connect with people who are going through the whole support system - that's a big deal, " says Baker.
That gave the family information and support. And, Baker says, it allowed the family to do something that didn't come naturally at first: "Accessing support and letting people help you."
So despite the knowledge that his wife's condition won't improve, Baker says in many ways, he's thankful. He wasn't the only one who was helped. His children, teenagers and young adults also found people came forward to offer advice, assistance and the shared experience of dealing with a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's.
The experience led Baker to make a promise to himself with an expression of gratitude: Each time he consulted the Alzheimer's Association's website, he'd make a donation to the organization, and that's made a difference.
Editor's note: November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Learn more here.
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