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Alzheimer’s caregiver finds social outlet at Las Vegas Farmers Market

Florence Moditz can remember her wedding like it was yesterday. But her husband, Philip, she said, often can’t remember yesterday.

He has Alzheimer’s disease, and she is his sole caregiver. It’s a 24/7 job, one that comes with the challenges of wearing many hats —- secretary, chauffeur, housekeeper, nurse. It also comes with heart-stopping moments.

In late August, after finishing a meal, Philip was still hungry. She suggested that he finish off the last two slices of pizza. While he reheated it in the microwave, Florence went to another part of the house.

“All of a sudden, I see smoke, a lot of it,” she said. “I went, ‘What the heck?’ I came running out (to check). The microwave was on fire.”

Philip had turned it on without indicating the correct time frame. It wasn’t the first time he had run into trouble. After getting into two car accidents, Philip’s driver’s license had to be surrendered.

Sometimes she’ll find him sitting in a chair, staring at his surroundings as though he doesn’t recognize where he is.

“He was an electrician, so I never called a repairman since we were married,” Florence said. “Now he can’t put two things together. He’s like a little boy, trying to figure (a puzzle) out.”

For a time, she let her husband’s Alzheimer’s define her life. They stayed home and didn’t go out dancing anymore. She was always a go-getter, someone who liked being around others and staying busy. She had been involved with Tappers, the Sun City Summerlin tap dance group that performs at community events and assisted living facilities. She had to drop out.

Their big activities now, when they go out, are bowling or playing bingo at one of the casinos. She said that deep inside, she was furious at Alzheimer’s for denying them their golden years, the time when they should have been part of clubs and enjoying life together. Instead, she felt bitter and didn’t like the woman she was turning into. The stress and festering anger caused her to drop 15 pounds.

“I’d look in the mirror, and think, ‘I don’t see me,’ ” she said. “I was always the life of the party or the one hosting the party.”

She decided to have a hobby.

Always good with crafts, Florence now uses her sewing skills to make aprons, pot holders, remote control sleeves and microwave bags for baking potatoes. She contacted the Las Vegas Farmers Market and now has a booth there, Sewing Just For You. Philip goes with her and sits beside her.

The farmers market days are bright spots in her week. It’s not about selling her items, she said, it’s more about the camaraderie, talking with people and getting out.

“She’s become the mother of the market,” said Steve Johnson, Las Vegas Farmers Market founder, adding that her items are professionally finished. “She’s go, go, go, a real breath of fresh air.”

Organizers of the market keep tabs on her, said Florence, calling her house randomly during the week just to make sure everything is all right. One vendor has “adopted” the couple. Another stops by the booth with something for Philip to eat.

It’s an extended family, in a way, said Florence, so much so that she arranged to renew their wedding vows there Sept. 19. Steve Johnson’s wife, Ginger, said she cleared it with the city of Las Vegas, as the city co-sponsors the market. Two of the market’s vendors, Natascia Moore, who has a gelato stand, and Carol Ippolito, who bakes doggie treats, acted as her bridesmaids.

Linda Kelly, associate pastor at Mountain View Presbyterian Church, 8601 Del Webb Blvd., officiated as friends from the farmers market watched.

Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, chief medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, said there are many variables that affect how quickly Alzheimer’s disease can progress. Even though it may seem to plateau, it is not completely dormant. Hope is on the horizon, however.

“There are about 80 new meds in development; there are only a few in the final phase of development,” he said. “We do not know when they might be shown to be good enough be approved. We fight every day knowing that someday we will win.”

Florence said other women with an Alzheimer’s spouse should find their own outlet, something they can claim as their own, so their lives do not revolve simply around the disease and its destructive path. She said she looks in the mirror and no longer sees a bitter, angry person, all because she has reconnected with people.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 387-2949.

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