“It terrified me,” she said.
Fearing he would wander off again, Donahue contacted the Alzheimer’s Association office in Macon to see about getting a tracking device.
The couple now comes back to the Central Georgia Regional Office on Mulberry Street a few times a month for yoga and dance classes.
Thinking she and her husband were not up for fancy footwork, Donahue initially balked, but now has jumped right in.
Seated in chairs, dementia sufferers and caregivers spend an hour moving their arms, shifting their torsos and tapping toes.
Donahue didn’t realize how much tension she was carrying in her neck from fighting the frustration of answering the same question over and over.
Last week, she came in with a headache and left without it.
Her husband, John, has made great strides in improving his mobility.
Two months ago, she pushed him in a wheelchair everywhere they went.
His short, shuffling steps slowed his pace and threw off his balance.
Now she takes John’s hand and they walk together.
He gets around by himself at home, she said.
Trained dancer and counselor Danielle Bocchino, who teaches the class, leads them in gentle yogalike movements. She also allows patients to choreograph their own actions, which can boost their cognitive ability.
“Some of the latest research has been done with something called rapid-fire decision making,” Bocchino said. “Incorporating some of that in a dance class with people who may have Alzheimer’s improves the neuroplasticity in the brain and increases the neuropathways.”
She takes charge of the patients, which allows the caregivers to relax and reap the benefits of exercise.
“So we get to chill back and take care of ourselves,” Donahue said. “I cannot emphasize how important that is.”
Wendell Burton strains to lift his right arm very high, but is encouraged to follow Bocchino’s lead as she tailors the exercise to his ability.
“The other one works good,” he said, as he went through the motions with his wife, Linda, seated in the next chair.
“We do not stay at home. We get out and go because that’s what he enjoys doing,” Linda Burton said. “He enjoys people. He enjoys being around groups, which is very important to these people.”
Medication is helping Wendell Burton continue with daily activities such as getting up, bathing and getting dressed, she said, but every day is different.
The round-the-clock care takes its toll.
“They need day care for these people — 24/7 becomes a real involved situation,” Burton said. “These people need some place to go for entertainment, and the caregiver needs some time alone.”
Currently, the free classes meet the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 11 a.m. and the second and fourth Fridays at 9:30 a.m. at the headquarters at 886 Mulberry St., just down from the Hay House.
Tara Johnson, director of community outreach for the local association, said the class is perfect for those in early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s and others with early onset.
“It’s not about how well you’re doing it. It’s just about enjoying it and being in the moment,” Johnson said.
The organization serves 26 midstate counties.
Through fundraisers such as the Dancing with the Stars benefit, Memory Walk and donations, the association plans to expand the community outreach center and draft more volunteers.
As baby boomers age, the demand will increase for more services.
Organizers would like to lure more patients and caregivers to the class, which also boosts nonverbal ways of communicating, Bocchino said.
Burton has found strength in being with others going through similar struggles.
“Until you’ve been touched by this, then I don’t think that you know exactly what you have,” she said.
Even when she knows her husband gets something confused, she will not challenge him.
“Do not ever argue with them. They’re more pleasant when you don’t, because they’re always going to be right,” Burton said.
Couples coming in seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders, but demeanors change by the time they say their goodbyes.
“I come here with my face all tight and I leave with a smile. It is wonderful therapy for both of us,” Donahue said. “I really just can’t say enough about how great it is to have these people here who really know.
“People think they know. They don’t know. If you haven’t lived with it, you cannot possibly know.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303, email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @liz_lines.