EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series featured in the Gray Matters Solutions Journalism project.
MANSFIELD — Jane Imbody took care of her mother, Corrine Imbody, for seven years as her mind deteriorated from Alzheimer’s.
Now Jane wonders who will take care of her if she, too, develops the disease.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association's website, those who have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one family member has had the illness.
Jane’s uncle died of Alzheimer’s in 1979, back when it was called “hardening of the arteries,” she said.
Realizing the risk factors she faced, Jane decided to undergo 23andMe genetic testing. In doing so, she learned that she carries the gene variant for late onset Alzheimer’s.
“It doesn't mean that just because you carry that gene variant you're going to get the disease, but when you combine that with the fact that my mom had it and my uncle on my dad's side had it, I know my chances are much greater,” she said. “And it's scary for me because my mom had me. I have no one. I'm not married. I have no children. I have no family in this town…
“I know what I had to go through to care for her and to make sure that her needs were met and to be an advocate, because that's probably more of what I was.”
One of her hopes is to see more elder advocacy in the area.
“Some sort of elder advocacy organization, where, for instance, I keep saying this year I'm going to have a will done, but I don't even know who to put in charge as an executor,” she said. “Who’s going to make sure that I get into an assisted living facility when I need to? Who’s going to make sure that I get the care that I need? Who’s going to make sure that my needs are met?
“That scares me to death. And I know I'm not unique. I know there are others like me.”
One option for assistance is via the local probate court.
Richland County Probate Court appoints guardians for individuals who are incapable of taking proper care of themselves or their property as a result of a mental or physical illness or disability, mental retardation or chronic substance abuse.
An adult, while competent, may nominate a guardian to serve in the event of incapacity, according to the court’s website.
Earlier this year, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Northwest Ohio Chapter announced its plans to build a dementia-friendly community in Richland County.
"A dementia-friendly community is a place where those with dementia, their families and caregivers are understood, supported and able to actively function as part of the community," said Tessa Clark, program coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Northwest Ohio Chapter.
As Richland County's population continues to age, its risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease increases.
There are 81 different types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.
According to data released in the Alzheimer's Association’s "2018 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures" study, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in both Ohio and the United States. In Richland County, dementia was the fourth leading cause of death in 2017, according to vital statistics compiled by Richland Public Health.
Jane, who serves on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Committee, said she tries exercising her brain with the help of games and apps.
Challenging your mind may have short- and long-term benefits for your brain, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's website. See more ways to boost your brain health here.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but Jane wants to be prepared. She plans to get a will drawn up and meet with an elder law attorney.
“I want to plan as much of my life so whoever does step in to take care of me - and who knows who that's going to be - at least they'll know what my wishes and wants are,” she said.
“It's scary, but I really do need to start thinking about that and I do need to get all of that in writing so if a total stranger who doesn't know me from Adam has to come in and be my guardian, maybe they'll follow my wishes.”