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Wife's Affliction Gives Engineer a Second Career

November 01, 1987|United Press International

MUNCIE, Ind. — David H. Duff watched Alzheimer's disease scrape away the images from his artist-wife's mind but came through the grief to forge a second career helping Alzheimer's families.

Duff said his wife, Mary Claire Duff, was diagnosed about nine years ago as having Alzheimer's disease. She also fell and broke her hip. She has spent seven years in a nursing home.

"This has brought me to the point where I can accept the fact that she has an incurable disease and that some time in the future, I'm going to lose her," he said.

"I've gone through the equivalent of a death, all the grief process. I still go every day to see my wife, spend time with her. We communicate with each other by our own ways.

"She can no longer hold a conversation. She can still communicate by gestures and by what she's doing tell whether she's pleased or not pleased."

Lost Color Discrimination

Mary Duff, once an accomplished artist and art teacher, has lost her color discrimination ability along with much of her memory, he said.

Duff says his efforts to help and understand his wife and her disease resulted in him gaining a "second family."

After retiring six years ago from a career of more than 40 years in engineering management at foundries and steel mills, Duff, 70, went on to get degrees at Ball State University in applied gerontology and adult education. He works for the university's gerontology department.

"I have used my . . . re-entry career as a quasi-family, the people here at the university."

He refused to let the situation beat him.

Separate, Groping Support Groups

"When I retired, I decided to try to find out all I could about Alzheimer's and was disappointed about what I could find," he said. He found at most a dozen family support groups in Indiana, separate and groping.

For comparison, he said Indiana now has a federation of at least 54 family groups, with information exchanges and frequent contact with researchers at the Indiana University Medical School and in other Alzheimer's study centers.

While arranging a statewide conference on Alzheimer's in 1985, Duff said, he found Ball State's Institute of Gerontology helpful and generous.

Institute Director Gary F. Meunier and campus Elderhostel coordinator Peter Murk met Duff and suggested he return to school.

Duff pleaded a money problem. They solved it with a work-study program for him as a graduate assistant. They later found him full-time work at the university. He is glad they did.

"During the time I've been here, we have organized training programs for the health care industry. We've had two family conferences for families with Alzheimer's. We plan to have an Alzheimer's conference every year--either a professional conference or a professional-and-family conference, depending on what the needs are."

Duff is aware that he is one of many Alzheimer's care-givers whose dedication has become a career. Most of the 174 local chapters of Chicago-based Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Assn. (ADRDA) are headed by current or former care-givers, as are the more than 1,000 family support groups.

He keeps up with ADRDA publications, but the nearest ADRDA chapter is in South Bend, 140 miles away.

His current project for Ball State is a state-commissioned survey of Indiana's elderly, compiling results of questionnaires sent to 5,000 people 60 and older about their needs.

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