More than 500,000 Pennsylvanians cared for somebody with dementia in 2020.By Royce Jones

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — November marks Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

It’s a time to show support for the millions of Americans who are living with the disease.

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But what about the people who care for them?

KDKA spoke with Jacqueline Ruple, who said when she thinks of her 87-year-old father, Joseph Van Alfred Winsett, she goes back to a place when he was a vibrant minister who spoke various languages and performed missionary work in all corners of the world.

But over the past five years, his family started noticing that traces of the person they love were slowly deteriorating. In 2020, Joseph was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Jacqueline Winsett, Jospeh’s wife, said, “Now it has progressed to a place where he can hardly talk, and he can’t feed himself if it’s something he has to eat with a utensil.”

He now needs round-the-clock care and after spending a brief period in a home, his loved ones have been thrust into the world of caregiving, which can often be cold and isolated.

“To have to care for him, feed him, see him in that light, it’s a big change. It’s a change that I wasn’t expecting. It’s hard for this man that’s always been my hero that now I’m taking care of him,” Ruple said.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians were caring for somebody with dementia in 2020. Sixty-two percent have chronic health conditions, 16 percent are in poor physical health and 24 percent are struggling with depression.

But there is help for the helpers.

Sara Murphy, the vice president of Programs and Services for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter, said people should check out, “our 24-hour hotline where they can connect, including our support groups. We do have support groups for caregivers. We have them virtual and we also have some of them in person.”

When attempting to show up for a caregiver, Murphy explained that instead of asking how you can help, doing things like buying groceries is far more affective because most people will likely not seek help for fear of being a burden.

For Joseph’s family, being open and honest about the situation is the best approach.

“They think they’re hurting you, but you’re already hurt. It’s just good to know that somebody picks up the phone, sees how you’re doing,” Winsett said.

Ruple and her mother have both grounded themselves through church and small groups of friends who make the rough days a little better. They also undergo occasional testing for Alzheimer’s and encourage others to do the same and be aware of the red flags.

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To learn more about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, click here.