One Roanoke woman knows all too well of the stresses of having a loved one with Alzheimer's disease. It was eleven years ago that her husband was diagnosed.
Robert Watts is one of 130,000 Virignians living with the disease and 5.4 million nationwide, according to the Alzheimer's Association which released yearly figures Thursday. Experts predict those numbers will grow in the next several decades if a cure is not found.
When Robert and Jean Watts married decades ago they made a vow: for better or worse. The past eleven years Jean Watts has come to know the worse.
"It's stress 24 hours a day," Jean Watts said. "You start out and you think this is not going to be that difficult and each day is a new day and it just gets worse each day."
"They forget how to dress and they forget how to go to the bathroom," Watts explained. "They know how to eat but they don't know what they're eating."
Robert Watts was a pastor for 42 years, including six years at Greene United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke. The disease hasn't robbed him of some passions. "I like playing the piano," 76 year old Robert Watts said. "I love playing the piano."
It has not taken away his kind spirit. "I will try to help people. I always want to help people," he said.
The disease, however, has robbed Robert Watts of much of his memory and changed the family's life. "There is no conversation at my house," Jean Watts said. "He doesn't watch TV. He won't know that he used to like you on channel seven."
Her advice for people who don't know how to act around an Alzheimer's patient?
"Just come up and speak and always same your name and don't say 'do you remember me?' because they do not remember you," Jean Watts explained. "I'm lucky the day he remembers me."
For ten years Jean Watts took care of her husband on her own. Then last year she began taking him to the Salem Adult Care Center of the Roanoke Valley five days a week. It's been a tremendous help.
Now Jean Watts takes each day at a time. "The only way that I keep going is that I have a very strong faith," Jean Watts said. "I get up each day and I say good Lord you know what strength I need for today."