CORNELL MEMORY CARE CENTER SPECIAL TO THE NEW ERA
“Take off that hat,” she said as she grabbed his cap and sat it on a table nearby. Joan Burdette gently brushed the flyaway grey hairs out of her husband’s face as he boyishly joked with the workers and volunteers at Cornell Memory Care Center.
“My hair looks pretty good for my age, doesn’t it,” Charles Burdette asked the onlookers.
“She’s tryna brush it all right off my head,” he said laughing.
After a little more primping and teasing, the couple posed for a picture.
“I didn’t break did I,” he quipped. “Now, where’s my hat?”
Charles and Joan have been married over 62 years, and when they tied the knot in August 1954, they — like all couples — did not know what the future would hold: they probably never imagined that one day Charles would be living with Alzheimer’s disease. Likewise, they could not have imagined the friends they would meet along the way that would help them with the journey.
Charles met Joan in the fall of 1953. They married a year later and bought their first home in Hopkinsville, where they raised four boys. In Charles’ younger years, he served on the board of C. Plant Credit Union and served in the U.S. Air Force.
In fall 2005, Joan said she noticed a change in her husband, and because of her concern, she sought help from their family physician. After several tests and appointments with specialists, she learned that Charles has Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors told her they had caught the disease early — in large part due to her intuition that something was wrong. For the first nine years of the disease, they lived in their family home and spent four months each year in Florida. After that, it became apparent to Joan that the yearly trips to Florida were not going to be an option. Not long after their last return from the Sunshine State, Joan, along with their sons, made a decision to sell the family home, and she and Charles moved to Christian Care Communities.
Joan said that as she and her husband lived with the affects of Alzheimer’s disease, his physician often told her there was no doubt that Charles was in excellent physical shape, but, “it is you that I’m worried about.” The doctor knew all too well the affects of caregiving and the need for Joan to take care of herself.
Because of this awareness, when Joan learned about the plans for the Cornell Memory Care Center, she knew it would be a resource she should take advantage of to help both her and her husband as they deal with Alzheimer’s.
Joan learned about the Cornell Memory Center during an event at the Cornell Chapel in 2014.
“As I sat in the Cornell Chapel and learned about the new center, I looked out and saw the beautiful campus and knew this might just be what (we) needed,” Joan said.
In September 2014, she and Charles moved into their new home. When asked how her husband took the move, Joan explained that with the progression of his Alzheimer’s, Charles was not really aware that they had moved. She said because he was so accustomed to going to Florida each winter, he believed that’s where they were.
To this day, she said, he still thinks they’re visiting Florida and asks when they will travel back home.
The Cornell Memory Care Center opened its doors in spring 2015, and Charles has been going to the center five days a week.
“They make him feel so special,” Joan said. “The staff (is) engaging and such a blessing.”
She talked of how the center fits into his morning routine. Each weekday, once he is ready, Joan reminds him that she is going to take him to see his friends for coffee and breakfast. Once he arrives, he is greeted by the staff and is able to mingle with friends, and Joan reminds him she will be back to pick him up later in the day.
Along with providing care for Charles, the center gives Joan the opportunity to get out and do things she would not be able to do if he was at home all day.
Even before the announcement of the Cornell Memory Care Center, Joan participated in the monthly Alzheimer’s Support Group at the Pennyrile Area Development District office.
When asked what advice she would give other caregivers, Joan said it is a mistake to try to take care of your loved one all the time because there will come a time when you can’t. She echoed the advice given to her by her physician and the caregiver support group: caregivers need to take the time to care for themselves.
The Cornell Memory Care Center is in need of weekday volunteers. To sign up or for more information, call 270-885-1375 or visit 101 North Drive, Hopkinsville.
ZIRCONIA ALLEYNE contributed to this report. She is the features editor at the Kentucky New Era. Reach her at 270-887-3243 or [email protected]
PHOTOS BY ZIRCONIA ALLEYNE | KENTUCKY NEW ERA