A COMMUNITY OF CARING

September 28, 2002 12:00 am
TAKING A DIP: Betty Pahlisch, center, enjoys the hot tub with her daughter, Debbi Burke, right, and her caregiver, Karen Rubicam. (Submitted photo).
TAKING A DIP: Betty Pahlisch, center, enjoys the hot tub with her daughter, Debbi Burke, right, and her caregiver, Karen Rubicam. (Submitted photo).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

It takes a neighborhood to care for an Alzheimer's patient.

Debbie Burke depends upon her neighbors to watch out for her mother, Betty Pahlisch, when the older woman goes on one of her walks during the day.

"The neighbors are wonderful," Burke said. "They're very good at reorienting her."

Pahlisch, 74, has had Alzheimer's for about eight years, but has been fairly independent until recently, when her disease began to progress more rapidly, Burke said.

Poor health won't keep Pahlisch from attending Sunday's Alzheimer's Memory Walk. She'll be sitting in the pavilion at Riverside Park while her daughter walks the two-mile route. The event will begin at 2 p.m. and is open to everyone. T-shirts are available for a donation of $10 or more.

Sunday's walk is one of nine scheduled this fall to help increase awareness and raise money to benefit the Alzheimer's Association. It has been estimated that about 70,000 Oregonians suffer from Alzheimer's.

"My mother knows that she is losing her memory," Burke said. "We don't hide it."

Pahlisch is living in one half of a duplex, while Burke and her husband, Bob Bushlen, live in the other side. As the disease has progressed, Pahlisch has increasingly needed help.

Burke said that the family has made alterations to Pahlisch's home to help keep her safe, such as putting a cover on the thermostat, unplugging the range and creating speed-dial phone programs for certain

numbers.

"She knows she can reach me by phone by pushing one number," Burke said.

Pahlisch's declining cognitive skills have caused her to be a prey to telemarketers, Burke said.

"We have many magazines," she said.

Other salespeople have persuaded the older woman to change long-distance telephone providers. Burke, though, has ordered a system known as a "pic" hold that blocks changes in long-distance providers.

Each morning, a care giver arrives at Pahlisch's house to spend an hour helping her get dressed and ready for breakfast. Meals on Wheels arrives at 10:30 a.m., and Burke goes home for lunch later.

When she's alone Pahlisch takes care of her Yorkshire terrier, watches TV and takes walks.

Soon, however, the 74-year-old woman will need more help, and Burke is looking at different types of assisted living or adult foster care.

Burke said that her mother "compensates well" for the memory loss, but for the daughter, "I'm terribly frustrated, terribly angry at the disease.

"Sometimes I say, ‘Why me?' "

The Alzheimer's Association has estimated that the cost of Alzheimer's nationwide exceeds $100 billion a year. Medicare and many insurance companies do not cover long-term care.