Laona M. Kitchen
Laona M. Kitchen
Caring for aging parents can be difficult. Taking over finances, managing health care needs, and assisting with daily activities are just some of the tasks children of elderly parents take on. Dealing with a parent with Alzheimer's or other dementia only adds to the stress, and brings on additional heartbreak.
Gary Kitchen thought he knew what he was getting into when he had his mother, Laona Kitchen, move in with him in 2001 at the age of 80. At that point, he was already taking care of her financial well-being. Having previously not seen her day-to-day struggles, he was not aware of how deficient her short-term memory had become even by then.
After a couple of years of living with her son, Laona starting having more serious problems, such as seeing things that weren't there during the night, constantly misplacing her keys or her purse, and forgetting how to perform simple tasks such as making coffee.
Like most children of elderly parents, it was easy for Gary to dismiss the unusual behavior and memory problems as just part of her getting older. "She's just becoming senile," was a common refrain. (It is easy to joke about senility, but few people realize that significant senility is an official symptom of dementia.) However, when she began doing things completely out of character - such as repeating the same question numerous times, or forgetting how to cook - the family knew they had to consider other possibilities.
Gary's daughter, Melinda, was the first to recognize that something other than just aging was happening to her grandmother. They suspected - and feared - Alzheimer's, and had already started to research the disease. Even then, they still did not comprehend the full extent and ramifications the diagnosis would have on Laona and her family.
Gary first consulted a geriatric doctor, then a neurologist; this resulted in the official diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Gary tried to care for his mother himself at home at first. After many months, in 2007 the difficult and heartbreaking decision was made to move her to an assisted living facility, Arbor Terrace at West Cobb.
For almost two years, Laona lived in the assisted living section, where she had her own room and could come and go as she pleased. By September 2009, the disease had progressed so significantly that she was moved to the 24/7 restricted access section of the facility.
As any family member can attest, it is difficult to watch a person you love virtually "disappear" right before your eyes. Gary credits Jennifer Ferguson, Executive Director at Arbor Terrace at West Cobb, and her staff as being exceptionally helpful in assisting Gary and his family in dealing with Laona and the rapid progression of the disease.
In August 2011, Gary and his family lost Laona at the age of 90 to complications of Alzheimer's. She leaves a legacy of love to two sons, Gary and Ed, and daughter-in-law Joyce; four grandchildren, Melinda, Jason, Eric and Sheila, granddaughters-in-law Jolee and Sandra, and grandsons-in-law Steve and Kevin; and eleven great grandchildren, Jessica, Makenzie, Parker, Kyle, Alex, Chad, Rebecca, Zach, Andrew, Dillon and Maddie.
Laona, or GG as her grandchildren called her, was an extremely influential matriarch of the family, particularly after Gary and Ed's father passed away in 1979. She assisted in raising Gary's children. She taught her family how to cook, and gave sound financial advice. She was a person of common sense, stability, humor and reliability. All who met her loved her and her ready smile.
The Laona M. Kitchen Foundation is the Kitchen's family way of honoring Laona's impact on their lives. The Foundation seeks to ease the burden on families who are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. Donations and contributions go to assist families needing respite care as well as educating the community about the disease.
There are 5 to 10 million Americans suffering with this terrible disease. Together we can make a difference.