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Honoring the women soldiers in the battle against Alzheimer's

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 04. 2017 6:47PM

There is a common phrase used to describe those who care for an aging parent while caring for their young children — those caregivers are members of what is called the “sandwich generation.”

Twelve years ago, Brenda Bouchard of Madbury found herself to be a triple-decker in the sandwich generation, caring for her teen children, her mother with cognitive impairment, and her husband who was newly diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She was navigating trips to the neurologist for her husband, doctor appointments for her mother, while making sure homework was getting done, hosting sleepovers for the basketball team, and figuring out the college admissions process and how to pay for it all.

“Many times, we’re forced to take our emotional hats off and put them in another room and put on the business hat because that’s what we have to do,” Bouchard said.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and the Alzheimer’s Association kicked it off with a Women Leaders in Alzheimer’s Policy breakfast in Hampton on Friday. It was held to honor those who have made a difference in making New Hampshire more “dementia capable,” including state Sen. Sharon Carson and state Rep. Janet Wall.

They also honored Bouchard who became an “accidental advocate” both locally and nationally. Her message to the group of 40 assembled at Ashworth By The Sea was to remember the women. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading killer in the country, the most expensive to treat, and is far more likely to affect women than men. Women are more likely to develop the disease — two-thirds of the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are female. Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the remainder of their life as they are to develop breast cancer, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The disease also impacts women more profoundly in other ways. There are 13 million women in America living with or caring for someone with the disease. More than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are women and there are 2.5 times as many women than men providing intensive “on-duty” care 24 hours a day for someone living with the disease, according to the group.

Bouchard has become an advocate for Alzheimer’s issues both locally and nationally. She spoke of her first trip to Concord in 2012 to tell her story to lawmakers. At the time, New Hampshire was only one of 13 states that did not have some sort of plan on the books relative to Alzheimer’s. In 2014, the bill she campaigned for was signed into law and a permanent Health and Human Services oversight committee was established to oversee issues affecting Granite Staters related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

She said it was then she realized the power of advocacy and spent the better part of 2015 and 2016 attending town hall meetings for 14 of the presidential candidates. She said more than half responded with stories of their own of how they were affected by the disease.

She said she feels a shift in momentum for Alzheimer’s policy and that leaders and others are beginning to take a stand.

“Alzheimer’s is a marathon,” she said. “It doesn’t take a village. It takes a nation and we are Alzheimer’s nation.”

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging

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