Love conquers all for couple dealing with Alzheimer’s

Aug 18th, 2021 | By | Category: News

Chris and Sylvia Lee-Thompson recently celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary. They spent their careers as Lutheran pastors and moved all over the U.S with their two sons, serving at different churches. Last year, in the middle of a sermon, Sylvia lost her place and couldn’t remember what she was saying. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

This year, Chris and Sylvia will participate in the Pierce County Walk to End Alzheimer’s in honor of their family and other families facing this disease. The event, one of many nationally in support of the fight against dementia, will be held Sept. 26 in Tacoma. Other Walks are scheduled in September and October in King, Kitsap and Thurston counties.

Chris and Sylvia met when they were in college — he in Iowa and she in Ohio. It was during a visit to see her brother that Sylvia met his friend, Chris. The two quickly grew fond of each other, and when the visit was over, they started exchanging letters three times a week and calling whenever they could. Their families ended up spending Christmas together, and later, during a visit over spring break, the two decided to get married in May of the following year.

Chris and Sylvia were married in a Lutheran church and had a small outdoor reception. Chris’s mother made Julekake, they decorated with lilacs and sang madrigals. “Our wedding was just the way we wanted it,” said Sylvia.

After graduating, they traveled around the Midwest, Chris working as a pastor and Sylvia in social services. Sylvia went to seminary in 2003 and began serving as a pastor in 2007.

In early 2020, Chris and Sylvia were living in Mount Vernon, where Sylvia was serving as a pastor. They began to notice signs of memory loss, like the day she lost her place during a sermon. “She had even forgotten that she preached, so that made it clear to her and the congregation that there was a problem,” said Chris.

“I think the people at church knew after that Sunday,” said Sylvia. The congregation president eventually suggested that it might be time for her to take disability.

She knew it was something more serious than regular age-related memory loss because, as she said, “Things seemed off. I went to a regular doctor and he said that I should see another doctor for a second opinion.”

The couple went to multiple doctors, looking for answers. Sylvia took some standard tests for dementia. “They asked me some questions, and sometimes I just couldn’t find the answer. They asked me to name as many animals as I could in a certain amount of time, and I could only name about four.”

On April 1, 2020, Sylvia finally received her diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Because of COVID-19, she learned her diagnosis over the phone.

Shortly thereafter, Chris and Sylvia moved to Tacoma to be closer to their sons and their families. The transition was more difficult because of the pandemic. The couple had a hard time integrating into the community and building new social connections. Still, Chris and Sylvia enjoy spending time with their kids and grandkids.

Sylvia is adjusting to her new normal. “In my condition, I’m not able to do as much stuff as I used to be able to do, and that’s hard for Chris,” she said. “And yet, I’m still able to do certain things. It’s just hard. I was used to being ‘with it,’ and I’m just not as with it now, I guess.”

Chris’ role of husband is transitioning to the role of caregiver.

“It’s been a big change, and that’s an understatement,” he said. “This is not the retirement I signed up for. I’ve never been a caregiver before. I’ve given care as a father and a husband and a pastor. But to be in the role of a caregiver is different. So it’s a role I’m having to learn.

“I think it’s hard for us as a couple, as our marriage has been very mutual and we’ve shared in all decisions. Much more of that is falling on me now. I’m the decision-maker. It’s a change in our relationship. But I remind myself on a regular basis that Sylvia is still, despite what is going on in her brain, the same beautiful person that I married 46 years ago. And that in spite of the fact that she can’t remember week-to-week or even day to day what’s happening next, she is still one of the most kind and generous people that I’ve ever known.”

 

Chris and Sylvia Lee-Thompson, seen here on one of their anniversaries, have been married for 46 years. Chris says that even though she’s been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s, Sylvia “is still the same beautiful person I married.”

 

WALK TO END ALZHEIMER’S

To participate in a Walk to End Alzheimer’s and support the Alzheimer’s Association’s efforts to raise money and awareness in the fight against all forms of dementia, go online at www.alz.org/walk or call 1.800-272-3900. In the Puget Sound region, Walks are scheduled for Sept. 25 in Redmond, Sept. 26 in Tacoma, Oct. 2 in Seattle, Oct. 9 in Bremerton, and Oct. 16 in Olympia.

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