Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell had a very personal reason for seeking "Dementia Friendly City" status for the city. His mother Marianne has suffered a 12-year decline, with Alzheimer's disease progressively robbing her of her memories and functionality.
To Mitchell's family, which has seen Marianne deteriorate, the loss has been devastating. One sign of her changes was getting lost taking her granddaughter to her Girl Scout troop, an errand she had run many times. She put clothing in the dishwasher and toothpaste on her hands instead of lotion.
Mitchell's daughters, now 14 and 17, have experienced Marianne's forgetfulness and have transferred that worry to their dad. They had only really known their grandmother since she began showing symptoms of Alzheimer's.
"If I forgot something, they would ask, 'Are you going to be like Babi (their nickname for their grandmother)?'" he said.
Mitchell's father, Congressman Harry Mitchell, has been Marianne's caregiver. When the congressman lost his third-term bid for re-election, he decided to care for Marianne full time. Married for 54 years, Harry was not going to desert his wife who had always been there for him. They met when they were both teachers in Tempe.
Mark and his sister Ann attended classes on Alzheimer's and dementia to understand more about the disease. They learned about the heavy toll it could take on caregivers of dementia patients. They realized how tired their father was and urged him to get help.
Help came in the form of Oakwood Creative Care, a day-care program in Mesa where Marianne received stimulating attention from two to five days a week, which provided some respite for Harry. He was so impressed with the facility that he joined the board of directors.
"Oakwood Creative (Care) allowed my mom to stay home longer," Mark claims. "She likes to dance and loves music, especially 'Rock Around the Clock."
Oakwood encourages music and the arts to stimulate dementia patients.
Still, his father was tired. Friends and family encouraged Harry to consider full-time care for Marianne. Her disease had developed to the point where she didn't make sense when she spoke.
In August 2015, Marianne became a full-time resident at Hawthorne Court, which specializes in memory care patients, in Ahwatukee. Harry is still devoted to her, visiting every morning to help her start her day.
According to Mark, on a rare weekend away when his dad went to Washington, D.C., to visit his former Congressional staff, Harry returned and realized Marianne didn't miss him. Her memory and sense of time was lost.
The progress of Marianne's Alzheimer's disease meant she was not able to attend Mark's second swearing-in ceremony this past July as Tempe mayor.
"Not having mom there was tough. I miss my mom. She was always there for us," Mark said.
Making Tempe a Dementia Friendly City was a natural move. Dementia, of which Alzheimer's disease is the most common form, is estimated to affect 1,500 in Tempe. Multiply that number by two to include the caregivers, who endanger their health and don't ask for help soon enough.
Jan Dougherty, director of Banner Alzheimer's Institute, cited Arizona statistics estimating that 80,000 Maricopa County residents have dementia with a total of 120,000 cases in Arizona. State projections indicate that these numbers will double in the next 10 years.
By becoming a Dementia Friendly City, Tempe has set the stage for programs and resources to be available to those who can benefit, both patients and caregivers. Tempe has partnered with Banner Alzheimer's Institute to provide programs and new approaches to care and community building.
Dougherty said, "Silver Alert legislation has now made services available to people of any age with dementia."
Previously, if a loved one with dementia wandered off, but was younger than 65, services were not available. Dougherty cites statistics that 60 percent of people with dementia wander off. On foot, typically that means the patient might walk 2-3 miles. For those who have access to a car, they could drive 30-60 miles.
By being a Dementia Friendly City, Tempe has begun the process of making neighborhoods safe places for everyone, where people will know when someone could be in danger and have resources to help.
Next week: New advances in care and medicine for dementia patients in Tempe and Arizona.