“It’s very rare that I get surprised these days.”

Those words, from David Huckabee, job program coordinator of the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, are based on the fact that he has lived with Alzheimer’s in his family. That personal knowledge, understanding and empathy makes him better at his job.

Huckabee’s contact with Alzheimer’s started when he was still in high school with his maternal grandmother.

“She lived with our family for five years during her journey with Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Back then, there were not a lot of resources. Al’z Place was a first-year pilot program. But we were grateful for that and other services that existed. Each new experience, trial or issue we went through, we pretty much had to navigate on our own. It’s better now, but I really learned in the trenches.”

As a result, Huckabee decided to devote his professional life to this issue. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Florida in health administration and geriatric issues. He has worked for the Area Agency on Aging/Elder Options before his current osition. And while he was getting a professional education and experience, the personal learning did not stop.

Some years after his maternal grandmother, his other grandmother was diagnosed. She was followed by a cousin, for whom Hucakbee and his mother were the primary caregivers. Now it is his mother who has been diagnosed with cognitive impairment.

“I have a lot of first-hand knowledge,” he said. “While that helps, every person going through the disease is an individual with individual issues. You try to be prepared but you’re never really ready.”

When Hucakbee talks to a caregiver about their role, he brings a unique perspective.

“I can say, this is how I deal with the situation,” he said. “And now it is very different for me. There are a whole host of emotions I feel with my mother that are different – the biggest being the role reversal – along with the challenge of becoming the decision maker for someone else.”

He sees it as both a challenge and an opportunity.

“Because I am involved in dealing with issues relating to Alzheimer’s all day, I get to bring that to my mom. It helps us a great deal. She is still fully aware of what’s going on. She participated in opening ceremony for our Walk Against Alzheimer’s. It depends on the day but sometimes she is very grateful for my education – grateful that she has someone with some experience.”

Most caregivers have no clue of what’s coming next or how to deal with it, he said. The fact that his mother is open about what she is going through makes his professional life easier.

“It helps that I know what resources worked for me and the strategies that worked best,” he said. I can share that knowledge.”

That makes Huckabee a vital tool in this community when it comes to caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Caregivers who are dealing with issues related to Alzheimer’s disease can contact David and the Alzheimer’s Association, Central and North Florida Chapter through its 24-hour helpline at (800) 272-3900.

Mom and I 2012 Gainesville Walk

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