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Couple journeys ever onward

Bob and Elaine walk the hallways at Goldfinch in Fairmont. (Photo courtesy Mary Larson)

Bob and Elaine Stewart have been married for 55 years and have been on many adventures and journeys together: career changes, starting a family and traveling.

Now they’re on a journey no one wants but many people travel: Alzheimer’s disease.

Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in July 2017 at Mayo in Rochester, but Elaine said his symptoms had been going on quite a while prior.

“There was a lot of denial on my part,” Elaine admitted.

She stayed home with Bob until June 2019. Then, with the support of their family, she made the tough decision to move him into a memory care facility.

“I thought I would die. I said it was the saddest day of my life,” Elaine said.

Bob lived at a facility in Franklin, where Elaine would visit him about three days per week. He moved into the memory care unit at Goldfinch Estates in January of this year.

 “I’m so happy to have him at Goldfinch where he’s just five minutes away,” Elaine said.

Now she visits seven days a week. She typically arrives after breakfast, at about 10 a.m., and stays well into the evening.

They eat lunch and dinner together in his room and they often go on walks together throughout the facility.

Elaine said Bob had been able to work on puzzles and play card games. Now he enjoys looking at pictures of family posted on a bulletin board in his room.

The couple was married in 1964 and moved to Fairmont in 1969. Bob was a teacher at Fairmont Middle School for many years. He was a reading specialist, then taught fifth grade, retiring after more than 30 years in the profession.

 The couple have three daughters: one in South Carolina, another in Lake Crystal and one in Rochester.

No one ever dreamed Bob would develop Alzheimer’s, as is typically the case. Elaine said that even though the fact that Bob had Alzheimer’s was surprising, the diagnosis was expected. She began researching Alzheimer’s as early as 2013, when she first started noticing changes.

“I blamed it on anxiety at first,” she said.

Elaine said Bob was a big reader and was constantly researching, and watching the news and stimulating his mind.

“He did it all and it still got him. We’d be feeling a lot worse if we thought we could have done better, but I don’t know what we could have done better,” Elaine said.

Of course, there is no known cause of Alzheimer’s disease. It can hit anyone at any time and it affects people differently.

2019 statistics from Alz.org reports that Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

 Elaine has been attending the CREST Alzheimer’s support group. When asked what she would tell someone in her position, Elaine said to remember that their loved one did not choose the disease and they wouldn’t choose to act how they are.

“When looking at different behaviors, I remind myself, it’s not them. That’s not who they are. Many people think Alzheimer’s is just memory loss. And that would be bad enough, but it’s so much more,” Elaine said.

Elaine said she has noticed that the staff at Goldfinch understands Alzheimer’s and handles the residents and their different behaviors with care.

Mary Larson, sales and marketing manager at Goldfinch, said: “Alzheimer’s awareness and its impact on the caregiver is so important for people going through the same thing to educate themselves on. Knowing you can ask for help or place them in a specialized care center to gain some much needed self care and peace of mind is crucial.”

Elaine also has learned that it’s OK to cry when you need to.

“Our whole family has cried, and it’s not just us. It’s everyone. But the love is just as strong or stronger than it ever was,” she said.

 Elaine said she refuses to be intimated by the disease and will make the most out of every day she has with Bob.

“Despite the sadness of Alzheimer’s, every day is absolutely filled with blessings. Many blessings. You can’t just dwell on what the losses are,” Elaine said.

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