Names: Jack and Beverly Brownrigg.
Ages: Jack 76, Bev 73.
Children: They do not have children; however Bev considers their 61/2-year-old cocker spaniel, Brady, "her baby."
Grocers: The Brownriggs worked together for more than 30 years. They were independent grocers, with several stores in Whatcom County from the early 1960s until 1994.
Enjoyed early retirement: After selling their last store and the property it sat on in the mid '90s, Jack and Bev quickly adjusted to a life of early retirement. Thanks to smart business decisions during their working years, they were financially comfortable and able to enjoy their shared passion of boating and fishing as a couple for more than 10 years.
Problem signs: It was during this time that Jack began exhibiting signs of illness, which were eventually diagnosed as Lewy body dementia and Parkinson's disease. Today, Jack lives in a private apartment in a dementia care center at Lynden Manor Assisted Living Residence.
Although Jack receives total care from the nursing staff, Bev is by his side seven to eight hours every day, while still maintaining the family home in Bellingham.
"Although I can no longer physically care for Jack, he is still my responsibility and some days he knows I'm there," she says.
Help needed: Although the Brownriggs enjoyed a satisfying lifestyle, they had no formal retirement plan in place. With input from their family physician, Dr. Michael Geist, and Jack's rapidly deteriorating health, Bev quickly realized she needed professional help.
Respite breaks: About three years after Jack's diagnosis, Bev read in The Bellingham Herald about St. Joseph's Adult Day Health Center.
Adult Day Health provided Bev much-needed respite time, so she could re-energize to better care for her husband.
"They were the first phone call I made and were a godsend," she says. "They took such good care of Jack, starting out with three mornings each week. I was able to tend to my own appointments and such."
Dementia care: The staff at Adult Day Health recommended that Bev contact the Alzheimer Society of Washington, which proved to be a blessing and a group in which Bev remains active.
After attending a monthly support group at Lynden Manor in August 2008, Bev toured the facility and learned that they had an apartment available in the dementia care center.
"I wasn't mentally prepared to make that decision at the time," she says, "but realized that there was usually a waiting list of a year or more for the kind of room that Jack would need. I found myself saying, 'I'll take it.' Jack moved in three months later."
Legal advice: In addition, Bev sought the legal expertise of Barry Meyers of Bellingham, who specializes in elder law.
"Barry really helped me keep the legal and financial aspects of our retirement future in order," she says. "I wouldn't have known what to do without his guidance."
New plans: Bev says she has gained a wealth of knowledge from the trials she and Jack have experienced. She now hopes to work as a volunteer, perhaps for a hospice or an assisted living facility. She has taken several caregiver classes, and attends conferences hosted by the Alzheimer Society.
"I want to continue learning and share my knowledge with others," Bev says. "It's a wonderful way to give back."
Plan ahead. Tour care facilities, get on their waiting lists, and learn about elder care before you need it. Basically, "put your ducks in a row."
Seriously consider long-term-care insurance. "We were quite healthy when an insurance agent suggested long-term care and we didn't think it was necessary," she says. "It sure would have been helpful now."
Plan for a power of attorney. Someone will need to make important financial, legal and medical decisions; that person should be determined before the onset of dementia.
Chava Wiebe is a Bellingham freelance writer.