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Fishing for Memories Helps Kids Tackle Alzheimer’s

by Jim Longworth

It is estimated that more than 5 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to climb to 16 million by the year 2050 if something isn’t done to reverse the trend. Fortunately, something is being done. Last week (and for the first time in 27 years), the National Institutes of Health revised its guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. Recognizing that Alzheimer’s is the result of a “gradual destruction” of brain cells which control memory,

NIH in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association, now recommends that doctors diagnose the risk of the disease long before their patients develop full-blown dementia. According to the Washington Post, this change in strategy could help identify more people in early stages of Alzheimer’s, who might then volunteer for drug studies which could delay the disease.

At the very least, however, earlier diagnosis can help families prepare financially and emotionally for dealing with the eventuality that faces them. The cost of care for an Alzheimer’s patient is staggering, not including approximately $200 billion of unpaid care, usually made up by family members. But perhaps the emotional cost to families is much greater, and no one suffers more than small children living in a household where Alzheimer’s has stolen the memory of an adult loved one. Toward that end, author Carolyn Peterson of Lewisville has written a book that can help young children understand and deal with the dreaded disease.

A few years ago, Carolyn’s uncle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

She then began to observe the interaction between her uncle and his granddaughters, whom he no longer recognized. Still the girls continued to talk with their grandfather the same as always and, in their own way, were able to keep their special relationship intact, and his memories alive. After having observed these touching exchanges at her uncle’s 50 th wedding anniversary party, Carolyn was inspired to write about what she had seen.

“I woke up at three in the morning, and the idea for a children’s book about Alzheimer’s came to me with great clarity,” said the author. “A myriad of books had been written about the disease, but usually from an adult perspective. I wanted to write about Alzheimer’s from a child’s point of view.”

And though her vision for the book came quickly, Carolyn found the actual process to be fraught with great emotion, causing her to set it aside from time to time in order to gain a better perspective of the interactions she had witnessed at family gatherings. She decided to take artistic license with the story, and make her nieces a composite character named Jack, and her uncle a kindly old grandfather who used to spend many an hour fishing with his grandson. Jack was determined not to let Alzheimer’s destroy his grandfather’s memory of those wonderful times they had shared, so he communicates with the old man by showing him photos of their fishing trips.

Fishing for Memories now offers hope and instruction to countless families who are dealing with Alzheimer’s. TV personality Leeza Gibbons, whose mother had the disease, said of Carolyn’s book, “When children don’t understand what’s going on, they can internalize the problem. Fishing for Memories gently provides a way for young minds to make sense of something so confusing and sad.”

Illustrated by local artist Deborah Wentworth, Fishing for Memories is a delightful and touching story that should grace the shelves of every elementary school library in America, and be required reading for every family affected by Alzheimer’s. The NIH says that early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is crucial. So is early understanding, and, thanks to Carolyn Peterson, a lot of young people will now be better equipped to offer special care to loved ones affected by the disease.

Fishing for Memories is available through www.carolynspeterson.com. The author will speak at a book signing this Saturday (April 30) at Shakespeare & Company at 2pm in downtown Kernersville.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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