Nevada County Couple Takes Team Approach to Stay Active with Alzheimer’s

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As Alzheimer’s dementia progresses, people often find it difficult to continue their favorite hobbies and activities. But with help from family, friends and others in the community, Geno Meyers is able to keep enjoying one of his passions: running. Geno’s wife and primary caregiver, Cathy Anderson-Meyers, shares strategies they use to keep Geno running.

A star runner
Geno started running when he was in high school. Then, as a student at Chico State University, Geno set records not only as a long distance runner, but also in track and field. Geno is on Chico State’s All Time Top 10 Performances List for track and field athletes and was inducted into their Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

As an adult, Geno continued to enjoy a passion for running. Geno even met his wife, Cathy, through running. Geno and Cathy have been married for 35 years and live in Chicago Park, a rural community in Nevada County. Throughout their time together, Geno and Cathy have enjoyed time in the outdoors, hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing. Geno was also a gold miner, spending lots of time in the hills, mining for gold.

The relief of a diagnosis
Seven years ago, at the age of 62, Geno was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and then with Alzheimer’s dementia. Cathy says that looking back, “Geno’s symptoms started two to three years before his diagnosis.” In the process of getting a diagnosis, Cathy discovered that Geno had previously expressed concerns to his doctor about his memory, but hadn’t remembered to tell Cathy about the conversations. As hard as it was, Cathy said that they were “relieved to get a diagnosis.”

Geno and Cathy benefited from receiving the diagnosis and being connected with community resources while Geno was still in the early stage of the disease. They attended education and support programs offered by the Alzheimer’s Association and other community groups.

Back on a team
After his diagnosis, Geno continued to run on his own for awhile. However, they became concerned when Geno started to get lost on his runs. Luckily, being well known in their small community helped Geno, as residents would recognize Geno and help him get home safely.

Cathy and Geno at the Fab 40s 5k

In 2014, Geno and Cathy got connected with Sierra Gold Racing Team (formerly Trkac Racing Team) in Grass Valley. Geno started training with the running club. Cathy said that they embraced Geno. Individual team members would run beside Geno to make sure that he didn’t get lost. They would also run with him in races, such as the Fab 40s 5K (a benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association). Cathy says “the team just loves Geno.”

Making adjustments to keep Geno running
Despite the disease progression, running remains an important part of Geno’s life. Even though Geno has trouble remembering names, he frequently wakes up in the morning and asks Cathy, “Are we going with the group today?”

It has been a few years since Geno has been able to run alone. Besides running with the team, individual runners work out with Geno on other days. Cathy is not able to run anymore due to an injury, but she goes out with Geno on some of his runs, following behind on her bicycle. They have started choosing wider trails, as Geno has become less comfortable on narrow trails.

As Geno’s ability to care for himself has declined, Cathy has added members to her support network. Cathy says this has been critical to helping her be a healthy caregiver. Their two adult sons live at home and provide support. Cathy has also hired caregivers to help out and give her a break. It was important that the caregivers are active, so that they can keep up with Geno’s desire for activity. One caregiver brings her dog and goes for long walks with Geno. Members of their church also help out, occasionally offering to spend a few hours with Geno to give Cathy time for her own activities or household responsibilities.

Keeping the caregiver “running”

Cathy, Geno and his running buddy

Cathy has also made adjustments to ensure that she is taking care of herself. Physical activity and time outdoors are important for Cathy’s well being. She takes a pilates class, cycles, hikes, participates in a Bible study and visits with friends. Cathy’s advice to other caregivers is to “make the time and just do it.” Taking care of yourself helps you to be a more kind and patient caregiver.

Cathy has found local sources of caregiver respite funding, such as grants through the Alzheimer’s Association, her local caregiver resource center and another community group. Cathy attends a local caregiver support group and calls the Alzheimer’s Association Helpline (800.272.3900) for support. Every six weeks, Geno visits his brother and family in Oroville, so that Cathy can get a longer break from caregiving. Cathy says that caregivers “shouldn’t be shy about asking for help from others.”

Cathy has found that one of the most gratifying aspects of being a caregiver is seeing Geno “when he is so grateful for things we do, the things he’s involved in with people. He was never really a social animal, but now he’s more social because of the running club.”

Related Resources
Activities
Wandering and getting lost
Respite care
Watch Geno on his New Year’s Run
Fab 40s 5k
Runner’s World article featuring Geno (2015)
CBS Sacramento story on Geno (2015)
Nevada Union article on Geno (2015)

 

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