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Help available to families

October 09, 2000

Help available to families



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


Murder-suicide isn't the answer to the tragic effects of Alzheimer's disease, according to the head of the local Alzheimer's Association.

Fred Stouffer, 76, in July asphyxiated himself and his wife, Aileen, 75, who suffered from advanced Alzheimer's disease. Police ruled the Hagerstown couple's deaths a murder-suicide.

"Unfortunately, it does happen. But it tends to be the exception," said Barbara Pilgram, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Western Maryland.

Such tragedies might be prevented if Alzheimer's patient care-givers seek help before the stress of the situation becomes too great to handle alone, she said.

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"There is support for families," Pilgram said. "And that help is right in the back yard. You don't have to go through it alone."

Fred Stouffer was one of the estimated 2.7 million spouses, relatives and friends who care for people with Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Stouffer gave up most of his hobbies, his job and much of the couple's life savings to care for his ailing wife in their home, said his sister, Barbara Ridenour.

He placed Aileen in a nursing home only a month before their deaths.

Excluding lost wages, the out-of-pocket cost to family care-givers is about $12,500 a year. The average cost for nursing home care is $42,000 per year, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

The average cost of caring for an Alzheimer's patient from diagnosis to death is $174,000, and experts estimate that the disease costs the U.S. from $80 billion to $100 billion a year in lost productivity, medical care, and personal care-taking, according to the organization.

Fred Stouffer didn't take advantage of the support services offered by the Alzheimer's Association of Western Maryland, Ridenour said.

The agency offers four monthly support groups for family care-givers, has a lending library and extensive resource directory, and provides an informative half-day program for patients and their families following a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, Pilgram said.

To aid in the safe return of wandering patients, the agency registers Alzheimer's patients in a national database and provides them with attractive identification bracelets and necklaces, Pilgram said.

The Alzheimer's Association of Western Maryland is in Suite 307 at 5 Public Square in Hagerstown. The phone number is 301-797-4892. In Frederick, Md., the office is at 1730 N. Market St. The phone number is 1-301-696-0315.

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