Alzheimer’s: Affecting more than the elderly

Published 7:48 pm Monday, October 11, 2010

Caroline Grube knew what Alzheimer’s looked like.

She had seen it in her father’s eyes and watched as it finally took him from her family in 2004.

But when her husband, Rick, began showing signs of exhaustion, confusion and anxiety two months later, Alzheimer’s disease was not even on her radar.

“We knew there was something wrong, but the fact that it was Alzheimer’s — I never suspected it,” Caroline said. “He was so young. He was active both mentally and physically.”

Rick Grube was 61 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2004. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, a retired Army colonel and had been working as a defense contractor for 10 years. Both he and his wife were also active in international Christian ministries.

To help the community become more aware of the disease, the Grubes are walking in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Walk on Oct. 16 with the Exchange Club, which they helped found earlier this year.

“At first we did freak out a little,” said Carrie Bishop, Rick’s and Caroline’s daughter. “Mom was quick to do research and early-onset Alzheimer’s was something that is very unknown in America. People think it happens in nursing homes, but that isn’t the case. But we’ve always been faithful to know that God will provide. We weren’t going to live in fear, but embrace the time we had together.”

Rick continued working for the next year after his diagnosis and has been living as normally as possible, although his symptoms have gradually increased.

“The hardest part for me was before the boys were born,” Carrie said. “He was completely aware of what was going on. He would just look at me and couldn’t articulate what was on his mind. Having him just look at me and … have no control over his speech, it was indescribable.”

Rick has maintained an active lifestyle thanks to his family, who visit often.

“Since the boys have been born, he can play with them and entertain them,” said Carrie, who has two young sons now. “When Sage walks up and lifts up his shirt, he knows to pick him up and blow on his belly. He loves playing with the boys.”

As much joy as they receive from seeing their husband and father playing with the grandchildren “as the boys progress in life, he is digressing,” Carrie said. “To have the two stages in life so sharply contrasted is hard.”

Despite the effects of the disease, two things have not changed: his love for people and love for God.

“He knows the faces of his old friends, and he’s so happy to see new people and thinks he knows them,” Caroline said. “When people pray with him, he will break down in tears. Prayer still moves him. It’s a testimony to God that this disease will never take his faith.”

Rick still participates in daily activities, such as going to the grocery store, going out to eat and attending Bible study. But as the disease progresses, Caroline is frustrated that she can’t find the help needed for those with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“There are some things that it’s getting to the point he can’t do with me anymore,” Caroline said. “There aren’t services here to help people of his age and activity level. He just needs another active man his age to go play golf with, take him on a walk and supervise him. He would even just sit there and listen to someone tell their Army stories.”

Rick has raised more $1,400 for the Oct. 16 walk, and Caroline has raised $1,000 so far.

“We know the money we raise goes to research and want increased awareness,” Caroline said. “There is such a need for services in this area. We’re not going to hide behind closed doors. We’re going to be vocal about what is going on. We want people to be more aware of Alzheimer’s and to know that we love Rick Grube.”

To find out how to donate or be a volunteer in Suffolk’s Oct. 16 Memory Walk at Constant’s Wharf, visit www.alz.org/seva or call 459-2405.