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Caregivers Struggle with Needs of Alzheimer’s Patients

As the number of patients stricken with Alzheimer's disease continues to grow, so does the community of families and caregivers who have pledged to look after loved ones, often risking emotional, physical and financial burdens.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, the battle against Alzheimer's, part two. Last week, the NewsHour's health correspondent, Susan Dentzer, looked at efforts to better understand how the disease affects the brains of its victims. Tonight, she considers its impact on the caregivers and families of the afflicted. Our Health Unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    This is how Meryl Comer begins each day: crouching, in the dim morning light, to empty her husband's urine bag.

    MERYL COMER, Wife of Alzheimer's Patient: Just a minute, love. I'm coming.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    That accomplished, she removes his catheter and helps him out of bed.

  • MERYL COMER:

    OK, I'm going to swing your legs around, Harv?

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    In a moment, she'll get one of the occasional fleeting acknowledgments that he knows she's there. He's probably not aware she's his wife; more likely, she's a familiar presence.

  • MERYL COMER:

    Hi.

  • HARVEY GRALNICK, Alzheimer’s Patient:

    Good morning.

  • MERYL COMER:

    Good morning. Good morning. You OK?

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Harvey Gralnick, Comer's 70 year-old husband, is in his 12th year of Alzheimer's disease. He's entering the final phases, when most normal human interaction ceases and patients completely withdraw.

  • MERYL COMER:

    Let me check your eyes, huh? Honey, you're having some problems with your eyes.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    As devoted as she is to caring for him, Comer told us she's now in her 12th year of something like hell.

  • MERYL COMER:

    I call myself a POA. I'm a prisoner of Alzheimer's. I'm an extension of his disease.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    And Comer says she's madder than hell about inadequate support for the nation's caregivers, including proposed cuts in federal programs aimed at Alzheimer's care.

  • MERYL COMER:

    I feel compelled to speak out for both victims, because they have no voice, and for caregivers, who are worn out.

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