When Bakersfield attorney Greg Muir was growing up in Wasco, he watched with admiration as his strong-willed mother, Lucille Muir, emerged as a community leader, heading up the local Chamber of Commerce.
Eventually, the Muir family moved to the "big city" of Bakersfield and again Greg watched with admiration as his mother emerged as a community problem-solver -- tackling head-on the consequences of a disease that was afflicting a growing number of people, but one that few were willing to discuss.
Lucille had become the caregiver to a family member who had Alzheimer's disease. She turned to the Alzheimer's Disease Association of Kern County (ADAKC) for much needed information about the disease and support. But she knew she and other caregivers needed more.
As she watched her loved one slip deeper into the world of the disease, Lucille felt the burden that all caregivers experienced -- whether they were caring for someone with memory loss, or someone with a physical loss. There seemed to be no end to the demands and no time for the caregiver to nurture their own health and well-being.
"She saw firsthand that caregivers have no respite at all," Greg recalled. "At that time, there was only private board and care. Today, we have multilevel care that can help transition people as the disease progresses."
Lucille went in search of a solution. Her visits to facilities in Southern California led her to co-found in 1984, with retired pastor Jim Davis, the Adult Day Care Center, which was located at the First Congregational Church on Stockdale Highway. The center expanded the services offered by ADAKC. As the program grew, it was later moved to its present Olive Drive site.
Designed especially for Alzheimer's disease clients, the program allowed caregivers to drop off their loved ones at a facility where they would be safe, and appropriate activities and stimulation would be offered. Lucille became the first on-site director of the center.
In a cruel twist of fate, Lucille developed Alzheimer's disease in her later years. Greg and his sister, Mary Kay Hill, took care of their mother until her death 12 years ago.
"My sister was a full-time teacher and had little respite," Greg recalled. "I helped, but she did the bulk of the work. Mom progressed through a series of stages. And she was able to go to the Adult Day Care Center she co-founded for a number of years."
Greg will share his family's story during a Caregivers Reflection and Appreciation Dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Hodel's Country Dining, 5917 Knudsen Drive.
Sponsored by ADAKC, the event is free of charge. Attendance will be limited to 250 people. Reservations are required. Call Robin at 393-8871.
November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness and Caregivers Month. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 65 million people, or 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend.
They are people caring for their disabled children; men and women caring for chronically ill spouses; and adult children caring for their fragile or infirmed parents. Despite their huge numbers, many caregivers still are trying to "go it alone." They are carrying the entire burden on their shoulders, burning out and often damaging their own health. We call this "compassion fatigue."
Greg's remarks during the Nov. 7 dinner should help give all caregivers the strength they need to cope with tremendous demands and highlight the resources that are available to help families.
"It's important not to just remember those afflicted" with a disease, said Greg. It also is important to recognize "the time, love and effort that goes into caring for them. It takes special people. It can be very thankless. It's important that we provide thanks."
Recently Greg was asked what he would say about his mother and her work.
With tears welling up in his eyes, he said, "I would just say how proud, how very proud I am of my mom."
Kate Eucce is the chief executive officer of ADAKC. For more information about Alzheimer's disease and local resources, go to www.adakc.org. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.