TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - For 17 years, she was the co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America. Since then, she’s become a best-selling author, a breast cancer survivor, a motivational speaker and a voice of reason for families dealing with diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Joan Lunden was in Tyler on Thursday for the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County’s Annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon. She spoke with KLTV about her mission to help.
"I couldn’t believe when the day came where my mom really needed me to step in. When that day came, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a better plan,” Lunden said.
She was referring to a plan to take care of her aging mother and the special needs that come along with dementia.
“I moved my mom into a beautiful senior facility, which was completely wrong for her. I thought she’d go downstairs and be a little social butterfly with all her friends. But she couldn’t remember people’s names, and then she’d go back to this apartment that I’d thought she would entertain in,” Lunden said. "But as the sun goes down, and as the shadows kinda move into the darkness of night, it’s very frightening for them.”
Lunden’s mother, Gladyce, had Sundowners Syndrome - a typical symptom of dementia and Alzheimer’s where the person becomes irritated, irrational, and sometimes violent as the sun begins to set.
“Don’t just drop them off somewhere. Keep going back and keep telling them that you love them over and over and over even if you aren’t sure they recognize you. Because we don’t know how much they are hearing and understanding,” Lunden said. "And just keep them telling them you love them. I wish my mom was still here today, so I could tell her that I still love her.”
Lunden said it was while navigating her new role as caretaker that she made it her mission to learn as much as she could and then pass it on.
“I didn’t know where all the important papers were, and it’s so difficult to try and resolve all of those issues at a moment of crisis. And my mom was overcome with grief. She had just lost my brother and her housemate because I had them living together,” she said
Lunden said while caring for someone else, it’s important to take care of yourself. Reports show caretakers will die 10 years earlier than the average person.
"You’re completely focused on taking care of a person. And that’s when you tend to let your own health go and things like doctor’s appointments go,” she said.
And when it comes to aging, Lunden said with people now living longer than ever, getting old shouldn’t be a bad thing.
"Look forward to waking up each day and having a purpose. That’s very, very important. It’s not just about the money you save for old age. It’s about the plans that you make., Lunden said. "That will keep you waking up every day happy to still be alive. Because the alternative stinks!”
Lunden’s mother died in 2013 at the age of 94.