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Kyle, Texas
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February 6, 2013     Hays Free Press
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February 6, 2013
 

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HaysFreePress.com CROWD FUNDING Internet provides fundraising opportunities for charities and small businesses - Page 1g February 6, 2013 Page 1C 1S sp n of mind, family, BY KIM HILSENBECK kim@haysfreepress.com Lynda and Roberto Sierra of Kyle ave spent 23 years together, appily married for nearly 20. But Lynda Sierra, 66, now has trouble remembering most of those 8,400 days. In fact, because of Alzheimer's, she sometimes has difficulty remem- bering yesterday. Roberto is now her primary careglver. He took an early retire- ment after Lynda's condition started to deteriorate. That meant a loss in monthly income, but Roberto felt it was the right thing to do. The Kyle couple learned of Lynda's diagnosis more than two years ago. According to Christian Wells, executive director of the A]zheimer's Association Heart of Texas Chapter, the disease is often diagnosed once the patient's symptoms become more pronounced and difficult to ignore, which typically means the onset was years earlier. 'A lot of folks, once diagnosed, have probably had Alzheimer's for three to four years," Wells said. That diagnosis for the Sierras sig- naled a change in their relationship. "Lynda was very independent and able to take care of things, pay bills, clean the house," Roberto said. He now does all of those things. He said his wife is in what he called Stage 5 of the disease; there are seven total. Though she is taking several pre- scription medications, there is no cure for Alzheimer's. It is a de- bilitating and eventually fatal neurological disease that causes irreparable cellular damage to the brain. Eventually, a patient's body will no longer have the ability to coordinate primary functions such as chewing and swallowing. But Lynda is not at that stage yet. The Sierras are taking things one day at a time because that is all they can do. The medicine she takes, which include Lexipro and Namen- da, seemed to have a slowing effect on Lynda's symptoms, according to Roberto. But in the past few weeks, he said he has noticed additional decline in her cognitive function. Sitting around a table on an over- cast Monday afternoon, the Sierras shared their story and the journey they've been on ever sinte Lynda's diagnosis. At times, Lynda was smiling and cheerful, especially at those glimpses of happy memories that Roberto helped her recall. She would switch to a look of worry and sadness when talking about the future, the disease and what it's doing to her and her husband. Roberto said she may remember an incident or event, but then later the same day would not be able to recall the same event. But on the day she spoke with the Hays Free Press, she seemed to recall how she and Roberto met 23 years earlier at Aquafest in Austin on Auditorium Shores. They were working in a food cart together. "She pinched my butt," Roberto said, a devilish grin spreading across his face. Lynda took her thumb and fore- finger and made a pinching mo- tion. She laughed, lighting up at the memory- or what she could piece together of it. The smile erased years from her face that now seems etched with worry and fear. After that initial pinch, they didn't talk again until a year later, when they randomly bumped into each other at a convenience store in south Austin. It turns out they were both divorced by that time and living about two blocks apart. Roberto was struggling with alcohol and drug abuse when he and Lynda recon- nected. In 1991, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His doctor told him if he didn't change his life, he would be dead in six months. "I haven't had a drink in 21 years," he said. He credited Lynda with helping him through that rough time in his life. These days, Roberto is repaying the love from his wife by making sure she has everything she, and he, needs to cope with Alzheimer's. He has taken up the task of edu- cating himself about the disease PHOTO BY KIM HILSENBECK Above: Roberto and Lynda Sierra sitting in the gazebo at Old Kyle City Hall. Lynda used to exercise there with the Live Well group but no longer feels comfortable going to the workouts. Left: Lynda and Roberto Sierra during happier times in their 23-year relationship. a hospice provider to prepare for when Lynda will need it. He has at- tended caregiver support meet- ings. Wells said caregivers of Alzheimer's patients are at greater risk for depression than those who care for loved ones with other debilitating diseases. "They are also more at risk for and its effects. He has contacted assisted living facilities, including Provident Memory Care in Buda, should it get to the point where he can no longer care for her. He has been in touch with e having their own I~ d~ serious health prob- ~lme ~,~, lems," she said ..... Wells said in her nine years with the organization, she believes the most difficult part of caring for Alzheim- er's patients is that the relationship and the roles change between the patient and the caregiver. "You do in essence lose your partner," she said. "The patient changes so dramatically." She said it's also a very frustrat- ing situation because there is no curative care. "It cannot be treated, reversed or stopped," Wells said. A few potential treatments may be on the horizon. Wells said researchers are exploring a vaccine and repurposing an existing medica- tion; for example, an allergy inhaler has shown some promise in a clinical trial. There is also a device similar to a pacemaker that M~; i has shown initial promise in helping brain synapses and ~ on flJ ~' neurons fire cor- rectly. "But any real type of cure, or even a way to stop the dis- HIV/AID$ a~ i ease's progression, d|~, have ~iaetL could be 15 to 20 years away or more," ~r's Wells said. That means there is no cure for Lynda Sierra or the esti- mated 5.4 million other Alzheimer's patients living in the United States. Lynda Sierra said she feels ter- rible about the burden her husband is under because of her disease. "I love him a whole bunch and I know he gets the brunt of every- thing," she said. She put her hand on his arm and patted it. "There were times when I could remember See ALZHEIMER'S, pg. 5C rovid t < ..... '~ i:) II I I IIIII III II I I I alzheirner'~ % a~odation Capital of Texas Chapter the basics: November 2nd, 2013 A class on memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease Every 3rd Tuesday 11:00 a.m.- 12:15 p.m. Email txprograms@txalz.org to RSVP www.alz.org/texascapital 24-Hour Caregiver Helpline: 1-800-367-2132 Resource Referrals I Care Consultations I Disease Information 4