March 17, 2005
As dementia robs William McMinn of his ability to walk, feed himself and make conversation, his wife has assembled a team of caregivers that allows them to stay together in their Chandler home.
It wasn’t always this way.
Months ago, daughter Jill Sanderson was worried that her 86-year-old mother, Marianne, would kill herself trying to care for her father, who was entering the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Then William took a turn for the worse and was hospitalized. Soon after, Marianne passed out at the community center.
"I thought it was all over — a few times," said Sanderson of Sun Lakes.
Now Marianne pays for home health workers to come three times a day and William McMinn, 89, has qualified for hospice care through Medicare. That brings a Hospice of the Valley nurse and social worker to the McMinns’ home once a week, as well as a volunteer respite worker for a four-hour shift.
"I thought it was only for cancer. And I didn’t think he was sick enough," Marianne said. "But I called, and they came right out. That was the smartest thing I ever did was to make that phone call."
Hospice of the Valley has a new dementia program that includes special programming, training, outreach and grief counseling.
Ten percent of its patients have a primary diagnosis of dementia, compared with less than 2 percent of dementia patients nationally who get hospice care.
"Our goal is to improve his quality of life," said Dr. Gillian Hamilton, administrative medical director for Hospice of the Valley. "Given this moment, what can we do so it’s a good moment?"
For the former Trans World Airlines captain, that means Lawrence Welk and Andy Williams. It means getting outdoors in his wheelchair, and living in his own home with his wife of 66 years.
Dementia is the fourthleading cause of death among older Americans, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
About 60,000 people in Maricopa County have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, and that number is expected to quadruple by 2050.
Hospice is intended to provide comfort during the last six months of life. But advanced dementia can drag on for years, so caregivers may have trouble identifying the end stage and be unsure about whether patients would qualify.
Medicare qualifications require declines such as difficulty swallowing, weight loss, loss of mobility and speech, and repeated infections.
Through a series of grants, Hospice of the Valley is working to educate families, the medical community and other caregivers about techniques to provide comfort for people with advanced dementia.
"There just aren’t enough people out there to provide dementia care for its demand," said Jennifer Williams, education coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, Desert Southwest Chapter. "It’s wonderful that Hospice of the Valley has a program that is specifically addressing this need."
As William McMinn settles into his recliner for a nap, Marianne tells visitors about the kind of man he was and the things he built in their home. The living room lamps. Her sewing cabinet.
"He was the most brilliant man you’d ever want to meet," Marianne said. "Now, he doesn’t know a hammer from a saw."
She is grateful to have the help she needs to keep him at home.
"Fortunately, we saved the money," she said. "I plan on living another 20 years. And I want him to be with me."
’A Moment for Dementia’
What: Hospice of the Valley program for caregivers and families
When: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 26 and 30
Where: March 26, Mesa Convention Center, Superstition Ballroom, 263 N. Center St., Mesa; March 30, Desert Botanical Garden, Dorrance Hall, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
Information: (602) 636-6363 or make reservations at
When: Noon to 5:30 p.m. March 24; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 25
Where: Chaparral Suites Hotel, 5001 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale Information: (602) 528-0545 or (800) 272-3900