DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — “Hi, I’m Judy Merck and I have Alzheimer’s.” The first time Merck said this phrase publicly was at a state planning meeting for Alzheimer’s this last spring.
“I didn’t want to accept the fact that I had Alzheimer’s because of the stigma attached to it, but it was time to change the stigma,” said Merck.
Merck left a farm in Indiana towing a horse trailer and arrived in Dover Foxcroft in 1973 with her husband and three children. They farmed, worked in health care, raised their family, made friends and joined in community activities. Merck now lives alone on the farm caring for her chickens and garden.
Merck’s good friend of 30 years, Joan Shapleigh, said that Merck was diagnosed several years ago after people began noticing that she was not staying involved in conversations.
“Judy is a good bluffer, she is very articulate and the casual observer would never know that anything is out of place,” said Shapleigh. “By being involved in the Alzheimer’s awareness effort, Judy has the opportunity to come to the rescue and help other people by telling her story.”
“I have a prejudice, this wasn’t supposed to happen to me,” said Merck.
She graduated from Indiana University and then got a master’s degree in physical therapy and counseling from Duke University.
“Education doesn’t change a thing. Now I have to write everything down otherwise it won’t stay with me,” said Merck. “I’ve always been the caregiver. I’ve been active with hospice, church, Womancare and Extension. I had a two-week stay at Hibbard Nursing Home that was very enlightening. I had worked there for years and now it was me who was the patient.”
“Whatever your weak spot is in life, it will get worse with Alzheimer’s,” said Merck. “I’ve always been a bit forgetful.”
Merck said that if you find out you have Alzheimer’s “be brave and find someone to share things with safely; it may not be a family member, it might be a friend. Ask for family and friends to support you, and remind them that they need to get help for themselves, too.”
The public is invited to join Merck and Shapleigh for the Eastern Maine Walk to End Alzheimer’s Saturday, Oct. 6, in Bangor, Fort Kent and Wilton. To sign up a team for the walk or to make a donation, visit alz.org/maine or call 772-0115.