(from left) Josie LoMonte and Bea
People didn’t quite seem to understand why Josie LoMonte would devote 10 years of her life as the primary caregiver for her mother, Bea, who had Alzheimer’s disease. After all, Josie was faced with all sorts of problems over the course of those ten long years. Communication breakdowns, "sun-downing" and wandering were just a few of the 24/7 challenges that Josie routinely tackled.
“Not everyone can do what I did, but this was my choice,” said Josie. And some days were rough. At times, Bea would “fly off” verbally for reasons unknown. She was no longer able to reliably communicate her wants or needs. So if the family was visiting someone and she was asked if she was hungry, a negative answer meant she wouldn’t be offered anything to eat.
And then there was the wandering. “One day I found out my mom had left the hair salon before her cab arrived,” said Josie. “On another occasion I learned that she had been spotted walking along 124th and Capitol in the right hand traffic lane during afternoon rush hour.” Fortunately, Josie found Bea safe and sound, walking in a cemetery nearby.
The life of an Alzheimer’s caregiver can be filled with stress, and Josie doesn’t advise anyone to take on this responsibility alone. Her siblings often stepped in to provide occasional weekends off, and she accessed resources, services and programs that were available in the community to family caregivers.
It’s hard to fathom, but Josie believes the gift she gave her mom has actually paid back and become one of the greatest gifts in her life. Through a decade long journey, Bea and Josie developed a very special relationship that didn’t exist prior to Alzheimer’s. “As a result of her memory loss, spending time with Bea was sometimes like being with a child,” explained Josie. “She saw everything as new and fresh, like seeing it for the first time. It helped me gain a different perspective on life at times.”
“I would also add that this experience reinforced for me that everyone, regardless of ability or mental capacity, deserves compassion and respect,” said Josie. “It was difficult for Bea when she felt she was being talked down to or treated like a child.”
Josie is an HHS Economic Support Specialist in Waukesha County. She administers a caseload for those eligible for Medicare and Medicaid benefits. This year, to honor Bea’s memory, she has joined the “HHS Forget Me Not” team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Waukesha County. The growing team, captained by Michelle Bertram, is in its third year. This Walk team gives professionals who devote their careers to serving and supporting elders, a fun way to pay it forward and help those struggling with Alzheimer’s.