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Coloradan shares impact of pandemic isolation on wife battling Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer's pandemic isolation
Randy Rush

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Most people have felt the impacts of COVID-19 in the last year. But one group, in particular, suffered quietly and alone at a time when they needed family the most. 

Randy Rush said he felt compelled to write about his wife Tami's decade-long journey with Alzheimer's as a means of helping others. 

"She was 49-years-old when she was diagnosed. That was a process in itself because there is no way to diagnose. There is no test for Alzheimer's," Rush said.

For the last several years, the couple learned to adapt to a new normal. In 2016, they purchased a home in a senior living community in Colorado Springs so that a year later, when Tami was admitted to a memory care center on the campus, Randy was still close by.

"I had less than a 200-yard walk to go see her. I would see her multiple times a day."

Part of their routine also included a date night every Sunday.

"[I] figured out how to get her into the car with her wheelchair. We went to almost every pizza place in town," he said.

But Randy said everything was upended by COVID-19 in March. He even contracted the virus at one point.

"I was not able to be with her, touch her, see her, for five and a half months, short of a couple of times out through a door," Randy said.

He believed the isolation caused by the pandemic contributed to her decline.

"Tami was declining, quicker and faster because of the lack of contact and lack of family support and everything. You know, she was eating less. She was sleeping more; all progressions of the disease," he said.

It's why he ultimately made the decision to move Tami to another senior care facility in Monument, where he was able to visit her again.

"When I picked Tami up, they brought her out to the curb where I had the car. I wished I had it videotaped. She smiled. She reached out to me. Of course, I'm down on my knees in front of her," he said. "We had developed a little bit of communication, where she would butt my head with her forehead and I've always said, that's the way she tells me she loves me and she was doing that."

Tami passed away in November.

Colorado Alzheimer's Association Regional Director Rosemary Jaramillo said what happened to Tami is not an isolated incident.

"We've seen more people who participate in our support groups losing their loved ones and losing them sooner than they thought," Jaramillo said.

Of the overwhelming number of deaths recorded by the CDC in 2020, data shows a staggering increase in 'excess deaths,' or those indirectly related to effects of the pandemic.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there have been over 31,047 more deaths from the disease nationwide, or 16.6% above the yearly average in 2020.

In Colorado, it's 21.5%, with 559 more deaths than would be expected normally.

"I think we can just look at history in general, when people are isolated and how they deteriorate. So add something like Alzheimer's on top of it and you're just stacking that deck against them," Jaramillo said.

It's why she said social and mental stimulation are so important.

"One of the things that we do talk to our families and their caregivers and our constituents about is really using their mind," Jaramillo said.

While Randy can't change how isolation during the pandemic affected his wife's quality of life, he said he hopes his new book, Loving Tami - No Regrets, will serve as a roadmap for others in similar, unimaginable circumstances.

"We made the best of it and we loved each other and Tami loved me. I'm convinced, to the very end. I can see that and I just think that there's a need for examples and for people to learn from other people how to do that."

Once published, Randy plans to use the proceeds from his book to establish a foundation in Tami's honor, to support Alzheimer's caregivers and provide funding to help find a cure.

Colorado Springs / Coronavirus / Health / Local News
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Jen Moynihan

Jen Moynihan is a weekend anchor and reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Jen here.

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