Let's Walk This Road Together

Published: Thursday, August 31, 2017

In 1989, newlyweds Sue and Jerry Minton were a young, vibrant couple, each with successful careers surrounded by friends and family. They were living the dream.

Their lives changed dramatically, however, in February 2012 when Sue was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of just 54.

“The diagnosis caught me very much by surprise,” Jerry said. “But looking back, there were some signs that she was having difficulty,” he said, including problems at work, personality changes, increased dependency and driving difficulties.

“Sue has always been very bright,” he continued. “So this diagnosis at a young age is hard to understand.” Growing up, he said, Sue could play the piano, guitar, many wind instruments and she was also conversational in French and could speak some Russian.

Just a few months after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Sue’s doctors discovered small lymphocystic lymphoma and associated leukemia, as part of a routine physical.

“Again, we were not expecting this news, but the blessing is that Sue’s Alzheimer’s prevents her from comprehending, or maybe even remembering that she has cancer.”

Over the next few years, Sue’s Alzheimer’s symptoms continued to progress, and Jerry had to take on an increasingly active role in her caregiving at their home. “I was just doing what anyone would do to care for their loved one,” he said, “but there were times when it was definitely difficult. The most important thing that I learned through this process is that my priority is to make her feel loved and secure,”

In October, 2015, Sue was admitted to the hospital with a burst appendix. Upon her release, her Alzheimer’s symptoms were much more intense. “The acceleration of her symptoms was very dramatic after her appendix burst,” Jerry said. “Caretaking at home became overwhelming and very frustrating,” he admitted, even though he had help from his sister and other caretakers.

“Of course my frustrations were never with Sue,” he said, “but with the Alzheimer’s that was causing symptoms and behaviors that were out of my control. Caring for her at home was just no longer manageable.”

Jerry considered the possibility that Sue was no longer able to stay at home – that her Alzheimer’s and its associated symptoms were more than he was qualified to handle on his own. It was an emotionally difficult decision to make, he said, but a necessary one just the same. Within a matter of weeks, he moved Sue into RoseCrest on the St. John Community campus in Mars.

“After talking at length with Mr. Minton, I was able to understand the issues he was facing with caring for Mrs. Minton in their home,” said Claudia McIntyre, director of residential living at RoseCrest. “We became partners, and together with the RoseCrest staff, we developed strategies that would not only meet Mrs. Minton’s basic care needs, but would also help provide resident-centered care that promotes her quality of life.”

“I felt comfortable here right away,” he said. “It was obvious that the staff really understands what it’s like to live with dementia and they treat Sue the way I would treat her.”

With the staff at RoseCrest handling Sue’s physical needs, Jerry said he visits her almost every day to provide emotional support for Sue, as she continues to struggle with the symptoms of her Alzheimer’s disease.

“She still recognizes me – maybe not as her husband, but as a familiar face, and I think that brings her comfort. She is still able to play the piano occasionally. She doesn’t always play the right notes, but that doesn’t matter. In her mind, she plays beautifully, and she is happy. Through all of this I have learned to find blessings in the little things and to focus on what remains, not what has been lost.”

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