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Sharing the caring
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Jean Simpson and Arlita Jewell don't share a typical landlord-tenant relationship.
They're more like fellow travelers, two women who were introduced by a reality that has dominated their lives the past few years: both their husbands were diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.
The disease is the most common form of dementia among older people. It involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language, and robs the sufferer of his or her faculties gradually. Often, Alzheimers first shows itself as mild forgetfulness.
The causes are still unknown; there is no cure. An estimated 4 million Americans have Alzheimers, including former President Ronald Reagan and the late Bob Straub, a former governor of Oregon.
The hard, round-the-clock work required to care for their spouses, Mike Jewell, 63, and Chuck Simpson, 66, brought the women together last year at the Alzheimer's Support Group conducted monthly by Ashley Manor Care Center at Meadowbrook Place.
The women became friends and, over dinner one night, discovered each had something the other needed: Jean had the financial wherewithal to purchase another house, and Arlita had 20 years of professional caregiving experience.
"I needed to still work, and Jean needed daycare for Chuck," Arlita said. "I also needed a job where my husband could be cared for. We figured, Why not put two and two together?'"
In this case, that meant purchasing a house near Brooklyn School in Baker City at 1918 Chestnut St., a home the two women have named "Chestnut House."
For now, while Arlita finalizes the certification she needs to operate the adult foster care facility, Chestnut House is the Jewells' living space and a place where Chuck can receive the care and attention he needs during the day.
Last month, Arlita completed a four-day training program in La Grande to cement her adult foster care certification. The house was inspected last week by the Oregon Department of Senior and Disabled Services.
Beginning sometime in December, the women hope to turn the facility into a home that can accommodate both boarders and daytime drop-in clients.
"Study after study has shown that people thrive in a home-like setting," Arlita said. "We have tried to make this as home-like as possible and affordable, too."
When it's ready for business, Chestnut House will offer several levels of care, Arlita said. Fees will range from $7.50 per hour for adult day care, from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m., to about $2,000 per month for round-the-clock resident care.
The two also hope to address the needs of mentally handicapped adults and children with special needs, Arlita said.
For two hours each week, Arlita plans to offer a free respite care service. That will allow caregivers time away during the day to take care of personal needs, she said.
A special bond
Mike and Chuck have formed a bond in the months they've grown to know each other, the women say. Mike takes care of Chuck's basic needs, from fetching drinks of water to whipping up light snacks.
"Mike takes care of Chuck real well," Jean says. "He makes sure he's never hungry or thirsty. I will have Chuck over here when I need it."
Before the onset of his disease, Mike was a trucker, carpenter, welder and rancher. Chuck had a Baker City optometry practice.
During a visit last week, the men sat in side-by-side easy chairs in the living room. Mike spends much of his day, Arlita says, thumbing through magazines that contain how-to articles about building a log home.
"In his mind, that's his next project," she says, and during the visit, he shows her several times a photograph or set of plans that's caught his eye.
The men also enjoy listening to music and watching slapstick comedy on television, from "America's Funniest Home Videos" to reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "The Three Stooges."
But they don't sit in front of the TV all day. The four have coffee out together nearly every day, and both men love to go for automobile rides and to get their daily exercise by walking.
Mike also takes the Jewells' toy poodle Arlita calls her "Marie," but Mike insists on "Poopsie" out for potty breaks.
Arlita says she relied on her husband's still-strong back to move the couple into their new home.
"Without Mike, I couldn't have made the move (from Boise)," she said. "He's my Mister Muscles.'"
The women have also formed a bond as they've dealt first separately, then together with their husbands' condition. Mike was diagnosed in 1996, Chuck in 1998.
"I consider Jean my mentor," Arlita said. "She has spoken up publicly about her situation, and she helped me to ask for what I needed. When I didn't even know how to ask, Jean gave me the words."
The neighbors seem fine with the prospect of having the facility in their back yard, Arlita said. One has already pledged his help in case of an emergency, such as a fire. Another, whose mother recently died after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease, came by to wish them well.
"There have been no objections," she said. "They think it's great."