Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health
Departments Health Links Calendar Archived Issues Media Kit Contact Us
  Senior Care Senior Living Camps & Activities for Special Needs Children Ask the Expert  

Alzheimer's Disease
4-Part Series

What would you do if your spouse was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease? Jim Ruck and his wife Gail Britanik "moved into the disease" when Gail was diagnosed in 2010. Jim visits Gail, now a resident at The Willows skilled nursing care community on the Presbyterian SeniorCare, Oakmont campus, every day and uses writing to share their journey.


A Helping Hand: Alzheimer's Disease: Engaging Gail
Part 3 of 4
by Jim Ruck

I continue to look for ways to connect with my wife during visits. Since last spring, Gail has been unable to follow a conversation or say more than a few words at a time. I have found three activities that have been particularly satisfying and fill much of our time during my visits – and I hope they help you, as well, if and when you need them.


Walks have always been part of our relationship. As Alzheimer's disease developed, we took long and short walks – whatever Gail could do. This kept her healthy, vented pent up agitation and used time together productively. Now that she is wheelchair-bound, I support her for as far as we can go. I push the chair around the Presbyterian SeniorCare campus, and even a few blocks in the residential area across the street. Gail enjoys the walking, as well as being pushed! Along the way she connects positively with so many Presbyterian SeniorCare team members and visitors – they are all captivated by her sparkle.


As Gail's memories declined, I wrote up as many chapters as I could remember and then put photos to them. I used my cell phone to get digital versions of key photos from old albums and boxes. I inserted them into a document and this "booklet" became her "bible" and she took it everywhere.

As Gail declined further, she lost interest in the photos. I tried simpler albums with fewer photos on the page, which helped for a while. Recently I put the photos on my iPad. The iPad gives one large photo at a time, which can be zoomed in; this has helped Gail reengaged with the pictures. Gail is living almost exclusively in the present, so even though we are looking at the same photos each time, it is a "new" experience.


Gail always had favorite singers. As her agitation progressed and other interests faded, music remained. Watching some videos from WQED fundraisers featuring music from Peter, Paul and Mary, John Denver, and Celtic Thunder, kept her attention long after she lost interest in other TV programs.

I put music onto an iPod that we use regularly. Sometimes she will wave her hand or bounce her legs to the beat. I did a playlist of a dozen songs that are easy to sing; singing or whistling engages her. We found that soothing music helps her relax when going to bed. I also have songs on my phone which plays into a portable speaker, which is great for our walks.

Return to Top

Jim shares these suggestions as activities that he has found help to keep Gail engaged. We hope you have found this story, the third of a four part series, helpful. Stay tuned for the final reflection in the next issue of Western PA Guide to Good Health. For more information about Presbyterian SeniorCare, visit www.SrCare.org or call 877–851-1440.

If you are a loved one or caregiver of someone living with Alzheimer's disease, and need a little bit of guidance or just an ear, I encourage you to attend a support group. Presbyterian SeniorCare offers support groups at both the Oakmont and Washington campuses and they are open to the public.

  • Support groups at the Presbyterian SeniorCare Washington campus are held the second Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. No RSVP is required. The group meets in the Hillsview Chapel, right on campus, 835 South Main Street, Washington, PA 15301.
  • Support groups at the Presbyterian SeniorCare Oakmont campus are held the fourth Tuesday of every month at 3 p.m. No RSVP is required. The group meets at Woodside Place, right on campus, 1215 Hulton Road, Oakmont, PA 15139.

Westmoreland County Special Edition Download a PDF version Advertise Subscribe for FREE
Subscribe to GTGH












Scott and Christie

CMS Housing – Apartments


WR Cameron Wellness Center

Medicare Specialists of Pittsburgh

Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children

East End Food Coop

Reserve This Space | Call 412-835-5796 or email goodhealthmag@aol.com

Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health. All rights reserved.

Send email to goodhealthmag@aol.com