Ga-Ga Sisterhood focuses on helping people with Alzheimer's

Published: Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 8:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 8:31 a.m.

Three local women share a bond, formed through supporting each other as caregivers for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They are now trying to spread that bond to other caregivers.

Janet Robichaux, Stephanie Kenney-Gomez and Sarah Timberlake, or the Ga-Ga Sisterhood as they call themselves, met through mutual friends who referred them to one another as a form of a support group as they were all serving as the primary caregiver for their husbands who were suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“We had a mutual friend that I went to elementary school with, and we reconnected on Facebook. She contacted me privately and told me she had a friend whose husband was just diagnosed with the same thing my husband had,” Kenney-Gomez said.

A co-worker and friend of Kenney-Gomez’s introduced her to Timberlake and the three became their own support group.

For the first four years they were in contact, they’d only met each other face-to-face once outside of the fundraising walks they participate in. They used Facebook and texting to keep in touch, because it was a way for them to be honest and blunt about what they were going through.

“We developed our own safe environment to share and to be honest,” Kenney-Gomez said.

“And to know that you’re not nuts, because this is really happening,” Robichaux added. “Because when your patient, or your loved one, exhibits something weird you think ‘oh that’s not really happening,’ but when you talk to somebody that supports you who’s going through it. It gives you that feeling of normalcy. You do need a hand to hold.”

Timberlake said that it was important to have someone who experienced some of the same, and also different, things that they could share their frustrations with without the fear of being judged by others not knowing exactly what they were dealing with.

Reaching out for help is something that the women stress in the caregiver meetings that they attend.

“It changes you when you’re depended upon, and not everyone can do it and they do walk away from it. It takes a special person to see about a loved one and be their constant caregiver,” Robichaux said. “But if you don’t get help, you risk your health and then who will take care of that person?”

The women said a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about Alzheimer’s creates a stigma around the disease. Many people believe it to be an “old person’s” disease, but that is not the case, they said. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, those diagnosed early onset Alzheimer’s ,or Alzheimer’s which affects those under 65, represent up to 5 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s.

Timberlake recalled speaking with a man with Alzheimer’s over Facebook, doing a bike ride to bring awareness to the disease and people believing that he didn’t “look like he had Alzheimer’s.”

“He says ‘Tell me what it would look like?’ You’re not old enough. What they’re finding now is a lot of people in their late twenties, early thirties are being diagnosed more and more with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Timberlake said.

She’s also spoken with another caregiver over Facebook who has been caregiver to her daughter for two years. Her daughter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 27.

“This is not old timer’s disease anymore,” Timberlake said.

Kenney-Gomez said she even experienced resistance from the medical field in diagnosing her husband.

“In the process of being diagnosed, we saw a memory specialist and the memory specialist flat out said, ‘Oh well, he doesn’t have Alzheimer’s he’s too young,'” Kenney-Gomez said.

While, their husbands have passed away and they no longer directly experience dealing with Alzheimer’s, the women’s main goal is to bring awareness to the disease and the plight of the families.

“We were down in the trenches long enough, and now we’re dealing with the effects of losing our husbands, but it’s important to all of us that in the future no one has to go through what we’ve been through,” Timberlake said.

“We really needed each other. You could have family and friends surrounding you, but it is really a lonely disease,” Robichaux said.

Staff Writer Sean Ellis can be reached at 857-2202 Follow him on Twitter @Courier_Sean