“We had a great love affair right up to the day she died,” wife had Alzheimer’s, husband now runs support group

TRI-CITIES, TN/VA (WJHL)- “We were engaged then in 1957,” Jim Makris said, showing pictures of him and his wife Barbara.

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Together they shared decades of marriage, three daughters, and seven grandkids.

“This is one of my favorite photos of her,” Makris said showing a picture of his wife in her garden.

With all they shared, there was one thing Barbara Makris kept to herself.

“My wife hid it for 4 years from me because she was ashamed,” Jim Makris said.

When he finally found out his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, “(She said) ‘I don’t want anyone to pity me or feel sorry for me I don’t want to tell anybody,’ I said ‘Well we got to tell the girls, and she agreed to that and that’s when my journey really started because I had to face up to reality, ” Makris said.

As the disease progressed, he took on his new role as caregiver,

“It’s a full time, 24 hour job,” Makris said.

He was getting up at all hours of the night, making sure she hadn’t wandered from home, dealing with frustration, grief, and anger.

Police records reveal there have been hundreds of reports of missing adults in our region in the past few years.

Many of those are likely people with dementia, according to Alzheimer’s Tennessee, 60 percent of people with dementia will wander.

Just one of many things caregivers are left to worry about when a loved one is diagnosed.

Right now there are almost 5,000 people here in Northeast Tennessee diagnosed with dementia.

And for many of us the disease will likely hit even closer to home, 1 of 10 people over the age of 65 will be diagnosed and 1 in 2 over the age of 85.

“Sixty-nine percent of the time the caregivers’ health will fail before the person with the disease and that even means to the point of death. I think that people don’t realize that statistic, it’s huge, it’s unbelievable,” Tracey Wilson, Tri-Cities regional director for Alzheimer’s Tennessee said.

Alzheimer’s TN is a new organization to the area that helps families through the journey of Alzheimer’s.

“We are in the process of establishing support groups where needs exist,” Wilson said.

Makris said that resource was a necessity for him.

“It really helps you keep going,” Makris said. “There really is a need, and my biggest concern is that people don’t want to talk about it.”

His wife is now gone, but he continues to run a group to give others hope.

“What they’re going through, we’ve gone through and they can survive,” Makris said. “One of the men told me after… ‘The most important thing I learned today is that it’s okay to cry.’”

Despite the overwhelming challenges of his last few years with his wife, “It was well worth it, we had a great love affair right up to the day she died, and I still think about her,” Makris said. “I picked up an album…it had one song in there called “Lover’s Waltz,” and it still gives me goose bumps because I can visualize my wife and I dancing.”

Here are the current support groups through Alheimer’s TN:

  • Second Wednesday of each month, 2:00 p.m., Jonesborough Senior Center
  • Third Monday of each month, 12:00 p.m., Sycamore Springs Senior Living
  • Third Monday of each month, 6:00 p.m., Dominion Senior Living
  • Fourth Monday of each month, 6:30 p.m., Courtyard Senior Living (males only)
  • Fourth Tuesday of each month, 2:00 p.m., Broadmore Senior Living

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