This National Family Caregivers Month, Alzheimer’s Association Early-Stage Advisor Ricci Sanchez celebrates her bond with husband and care partner Andy and shares what they have learned on their journey.
In 2019, at age 56, I was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I had been struggling with my short-term memory, relying on sticky notes to get through the day as chief operating officer of a large hospital. After being referred to the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center in Houston, where I enrolled in the Longitudinal Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (LEADS) study, cognitive testing and imaging confirmed my diagnosis.
My Care Partner, My Life Partner
I’d only been in Houston, where I moved to attend law school, for a few weeks when I went on a night out. This is when I first met Andy. We danced the night away! After our first official date, we were inseparable, and were married just six months after we met.
Andy said that he knew I was going to be his wife ‘right away.’ I have been incredibly lucky to have spent the past 36 years with my supportive, encouraging partner who continues to care for me as we share our lives together.
This isn’t Andy’s first time being the ultimate care partner
. He was a caregiver for both his parents. His dad had a form of dementia and his mom had Parkinson’s disease. His dad passed away in 2017, his mom in early 2020. I have never seen anyone in my life with so much patience and benevolence. He always cared for them both with a smile.
While Andy always expected to take care of his parents, we certainly did not expect that he would be caring for me today. Although there was a big learning curve, as for any spouse, Andy cares for me with the utmost patience and love. He helped manage my career while I was still working, and he is by my side as we navigate our Alzheimer’s journey. He helps keep me on track so that we can attain our shared goals.
We try to find fulfillment in each day by doing the things we enjoy together. Whether we are riding our Harley Davidson, going to the beach, traveling, working together in our wood shop or enjoying activities with our children, we are happily side-by-side. Andy has been there every step of the way as we’ve tried to navigate the highs and lows and understand the impact of this diagnosis. I’m forever grateful for his dedication and support to my success and well-being.
Navigating Alzheimer’s as a Couple
Smart, successful people have Alzheimer’s and dementia; it isn’t something you can see with the naked eye. Coming to grips with the fact that my brain doesn’t work the way it used to is something I have struggled with, but educating myself about this disease allowed me to come to a place of acceptance in order to move forward. I was encouraged both by Andy and by others living with Alzheimer’s sharing their stories when I decided to make my diagnosis public.
The support group we are part of has truly become part of our extended family. We laugh together, cry together and enjoy lending a listening ear. Some days we rally in support of someone struggling, and other times we get to celebrate success and happiness. Each day is different, much like the nature of the disease.
As I look back on the past few years, I think about how my path can help other care partners, caregivers and people living with Alzheimer’s.
If you receive a diagnosis, now is the time to think ahead in planning for your future. Reevaluate your financial plans
, set up trust funds, and begin the process of getting qualified for Social Security Disability Insurance
(SSDI). I have found strength by encouraging others who are struggling, and I look for and find grace in each moment.
Alzheimer’s disease may be insidious, yet Andy and I find joy in each day. We love to cook together, and our son and daughter-in-law share a meal with us every week. Our daughter teaches at California State University, Bakersfield, and we travel to watch her compete in golf tournaments, and she comes to Houston for the holidays. We have spent many years supporting our children in their endeavors, and we are lucky to have their support today.
Making plans for the future keeps me vibrant and alert, and Andy has been instrumental in helping me become an advocate for myself. My best quality is my perseverance, what Andy calls ‘stick-to-itive-ness.’ But I couldn't do any of this without him.
Thank you for taking care of me, Andy, and for sticking by my side during good times and bad. I love you more each day.
This post was adapted from an interview with Ricci and Andy Sanchez.
About: Andy and Ricci Sanchez, Ph.D., MBA, FACHE are Houston-based certified barbecue judges who have judged contests across the country. They are looking forward to more cooking and new adventures ahead with family and friends. As an Alzheimer’s Association national early-stage advisor, Ricci looks forward to the day when there is the first survivor of Alzheimer’s disease, and Andy continues to educate himself to help him be the best care partner he can be. He shares the acronym ‘CART’ with his caregiving support group, which stands for: ‘Don’t Correct, Don’t Argue, Don't Reason, and Don't Test.’ He hopes this is helpful to others beginning their Alzheimer’s care partner journey.