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All-Weather Friend

Mary McDaniel Cail’s book helps Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers By Kelly Twedell

Dr. Mary McDaniel Cail understands well the plight of the caregiver. With her doctoral degree, she works closely with Alzheimer’s patients and those who care for them. As a wife, she cared for her husband until his death after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her professional experience and her personal journey with caregiving and grief have given her valuable insights and tools and she decided to share those in a book called, “All Weather Friend, A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Cail, a Fayetteville native, has received great reviews for the book, which is on the book lists for both The Washington Post and ABC News.

Alzheimer’s Disease affects more than four million Americans, which means there are as many as 15 million caregivers providing for the daily needs of people with Alzheimer’s.

“Even though it happens very slowly, there is that moment that wipes away all the denial, and it puts you in a place saying that something is really wrong,” Cail said.

She recalled the story of a patient, a gourmet cook, who was making Thanksgiving dinner when she suddenly dumped soapsuds into the gravy. That is the point in her life when her husband realized that she was not all right.

According to Cail, it’s a stark reality for loved ones to accept, but the signals are there and the pre-clinical stage often begins 10 to 20 years before the disease is diagnosed.

As a person with dementia, or as a caregiver, a person’s world grows exponentially in terms of concerns, responsibilities and changes, Cail said. She explained that it’s during these times that the patients’ and caregivers’ worlds also shrink exponentially in terms of outside relationships.

“Support groups allow those affected to connect with others who share the same hard times,” Cail said. “We also need the people who share our lives – our church, our co-workers — we need to have our social network there for us.”

The book is divided into three sections. The first is a guide with how-to tips for caregivers. The second part includes chapters on relationship strategies. The third section features stories from the lives of some of Cail’s patients. Using these strategies from her book, many patients in the early stages of these diseases and their caregivers have felt some hope and are better able to cope with the various stages. They also take great comfort in knowing what to expect next.

The book is aimed at those who want to know how to be supportive throughout the slow demise that usually accompanies Alzheimer’s and dementia and is the first of several Cail plans to write in a series.

When Cail speaks about the book she often shares strategies, includes a skit that illustrates the patient and caregiver relationship and talks about how friendships can change once Alzheimer’s is diagnosed. She says the disease alters the lives of everyone close to the patient.

For example, she recommends that anyone helping a friend in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia not ask about the recent past, as the most recent memories are stored in the hippocampus area of the brain, one of the regions first affected by the diseases.

“If you have not been diagnosed with dementia, then you don’t know how terrifying and heartbreaking that it is,” she said.