The lives of Frank Broyles and his family were changed forever when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Barbara Broyles was a “June Cleaver” type mother, taking care of the house and their six children as her husband worked as the head football coach — and later athletic director — at the University of Arkansas.
When Alzheimer’s began to take its toll, the family dynamic flipped.
“He took himself out of the center of the circle and put my mom there,” daughter Betsy Broyles Arnold said.
Arnold and her daughter, Molly Arnold Gay, spoke recently to an audience of caregivers at the North Central Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association spring symposium.
Broyles treated Alzheimer’s like an opposing team, reading everything he could to come up with a game plan on how to fight the disease that would eventually take his wife’s life.
Those who are caring for an Alzheimer’s patient should do all they can to create a team whose members will help one another navigate the pitfalls that come with the disease, his daughter and granddaughter said.
No one can do this alone, the Broyles family advised caregivers at the meeting, which was held last week at the Riley Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in south Fort Worth.
“It’s really a family crisis,” Arnold said. “It affects all the relatives. The number of people involved in providing care to people with dementia is so vast you could never put a number on it.”
All too often the family caregiver dies before the patient, because the caregiver is the one who has to deal with the stress of constant care, Arnold said.
Her father emphasized to family members that they needed to make their time with Barbara “the best of times,” Arnold said.
She said they would go with their mother to get a milkshake, or laugh with her as she struggled to fit into clothes because, as Barbara said, she was getting so “tall.”
After Barbara died in 2004, Broyles and his family wrote a book about the caregiver experience, because so much of the literature focused on the disease and not what it takes to care for people who had the disease, his daughter said.
After publishing and distributing more than 1 million free copies of Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers, Broyles, Arnold and Gay spent much of their time traveling and talking about their experiences. At 89, Broyles doesn’t travel anymore, Arnold said.
“But if he were here he would tell you that your attitude is your greatest asset,” Arnold said.
Gay said that anyone who is a caregiver should “give yourself as many pats on the back and hugs as possible.”
“The cure for Alzheimer’s disease is trial and error,” Gay said. “What worked for you today may not work for you tomorrow.”
This year, more than 5 million people nationally and 330,000 people in Texas will live with Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly 1 in 3 three seniors who dies who dies each year will have some form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.