By Dylan Deprey
It was at 14-years-old, when former Wisconsin Governor Martin Schreiber knew he had found his soul mate at Milwaukee Lutheran High School. His future wife, Elaine Thaney, sat nearby as alphabetical order had played in his favor.
“She was a girl I was determined to be with, she was love at first sight,” Schreiber said.
He said that throughout his entire life Elaine was the fuel to his flame. She worked as a secretary as he pushed his way through Marquette Law School. From walking their first newborn child in a stroller and knocking on doors during Schreiber’s state senate run in 1962, to the continuous support during his many campaigns, she was his anchor.
He was elected three times in the state senate, twice as lieutenant governor and served as the the 39th Governor of Wisconsin. She was a teacher by day, and mother for a lifetime. They eventually had four children, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“She was my friend, she was my companion,” Schreiber said. “With the diagnoses of Alzheimer’s, she became someone I never knew before.”
Elaine Schreiber was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2005.
“There were many things I did not know soon enough, and many things I learned to late, and because of that my health was significantly affected. It wasn’t my health that was just affected but also I was not able to be the quality caregiver that my wife needed.”
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that deteriorates memory and other important mental functions. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and claims nearly 93,000 lives each year.
Through the peaking highs and the bellowing lows, Schreiber has made it his mission to reach out to dementia caregivers about the real-life experience as a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
He was joined by friends, family and colleagues for the renaming ceremony of the, “Elaine and Friend’s Caregiver Help Center,” at the Alzheimer’s Association of southeastern Wisconsin on April 25th, 2017.
“We’re helping families sooner than we ever have before,” said Tom Hlavacek, Executive Director Alzheimer’s Association of southeastern Wisconsin.
Schreiber said his own lack of knowledge about the disease hindered his ability to properly explain to both his and Elaine’s siblings, their adult children, grandchildren and great grandchildren about the situation
“What I didn’t learn soon enough is you can’t argue with Alzheimer’s. What I didn’t learn soon enough was the degree of anxiety and amount of courage it takes with a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to continue forward. Their brain is broken and they are in a different world, and I had to learn that I had to join her world and no-longer could she be in my world.”
In 2016, 193,000 Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in Wisconsin provided 219 million hours of unpaid care valued at $2.7 billion. This resulted in higher health care costs for Wisconsin dementia caregivers of $140 million
Peggy Brandt has been a caregiver for her husband John, since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012.
“Until you hear a doctor say it, it’s really tough to hear. But, I believe education means a lot,” Brandt said. “The more you learn about, the easier it is to deal with all the changes for down the road.”
The Alzheimer’s Association’s information and referral services, including the 24/7 Caregiver Helpline, have jumped from 733 inquires within the first 9 months of 2016, to 1,390 within the first 9 months of 2017. There was also a 40 percent increase in Face-to-Face Care, which are 90 minute in-depth consultations.
“It’s helped John and our loved ones immensely by staying social. It’s so nice to watch them interact with each other and their happy,” Brandt said.
Brandt said she started coming to the meetings and met some really great friends in the same situation. The group eventually became the Purple Canoe Club, and continue to meet with each other at least twice a week.
“It’s not a support group, it’s friendship,” Brandt said.
For more information visit www.alz.org/sewi and for the 24/7 Helpline