TIGARD -- Millions of Americans live with some form of dementia. It forces agonizing decisions on family members who must decide whether to put their loved one into a locked memory care facility.
We decided to go inside to find out what they are like.
Part of a day inside the Washington Gardens in Tigard revealed family members who struggled with guilt, but also patients who now prefer the secure setting with its 24-hour care to their own home.
Eighty-nine-year-old Dorothy Gardner is one of the residents there. She wears her grandchildren's pictures on a special bracelet although she can’t remember their names.
Ninety-one-year-old John Demarco, a warm bear of a man, wishes they served more Italian food and can’t recall his heart attack or stroke.
Willem Verhoff's room reveals patents that he earned working as an engineer at Tektronics and a visitor, Catharina. She is his wife of 56 years and she sobs as she thinks about his dementia.
“In May of 2011 he remodeled the kitchen,” she said. “In June he couldn’t remember how to turn on the dishwasher.”
Five million Americans live with the disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
There is no cure.
The families are bonded by their shared guilt and worry.
“It was very hard, and I was very guilty and very sad for a long time,” said Jody Gardner, Dorothy’s daughter in law. “I felt a lot of guilt that I had let my family down,” she said.
Carlo Demarco felt that too as he thought about moving his father out of the home he’d lived in for decades.
“Yeah it is---it is difficult. It is difficult,” he said.
Dementia is never far from Carlo. His wife has early onset Alzheimers.
“It’s very challenging. I don’t want to let her go. And at the same time, I’m cognizant of the fact that at some point I’m not going to be able to do it anymore,” Carlo said.
There is hopeful news. There are more trained workers and care facilities to help with dementia patients. But they come with a price tag that begins around $4,500 a month depending on the level of care needed by the patient.
Long term insurance may cover some of the cost.
Ginny McCarthy has been in the business 30 years and runs Washington Gardens.
“Twenty or 30 years ago nobody talked about memory loss,” she said.
But now it’s more in the open with the stigma fading from our culture.
“Sometimes you have to say, you know, accept it. It is what it is,” McCarthy said.
Ginny understands the worry and guilt that come with moving a loved one into a locked facility. She moved her own mother here.
“My own mom was waiting at the door one day saying she had to go to the bank. Everything in the world is on the other side of those locked doors,” she said.
Similar to dropping kids at daycare, Ginny said it’s often the families who struggle more than the loved one. But time and a secure setting to keep them safe helps.
Just ask KGW TV news photographer Kurt Austin. He moved his dad there last year.
“So do you recognize it now?” Kurt asked his dad looking at a picture on his father’s wall.
“No,” Richard Austin said.
“No?” Kurt asked.
“It’s you and mom, you got married 51 years ago,” said Kurt.
“Yeah,” his father answered.
“You don’t remember?” Kurt asked
“That's great,” his father said.
Washington Gardens will likely be Richard Austin’s last home--one he shares with Dorothy, John, Willem and others--each with a different background--and now a common story.
Editors Note: We spent time inside Washington Gardens in late April. Since that time John DeMarco died. The staff at Washington Gardens said he passed peacefully in his sleep.