Photo by Don Nelson
Don Reddington hugged one of his grandchildren after the “Ride4Alzheimers.”

Alzheimer’s disease awareness advocate waits for placement in VA contract facility

The difficult days that Don Reddington and his family knew were coming are here.

Reddington — whose courageous public efforts to bring more attention to Alzheimer’s disease were chronicled in the “Living With Alzheimer’s” publication in 2016 — is waiting for an opening in a Veterans Administration (VA) contract facility for dementia patients after his deteriorating condition required that he leave Jamie’s Place in Winthrop.

Reddington, known by friends and family for his independent streak and active lifestyle, is currently in a mental care unit at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee while the VA process determines his next stop.

“He’s gone downhill dramatically in the last three months,” Don’s wife, Ginger, said in an interview last week. “That was unanticipated. I thought I would have another year at home with him.”

Don’s decline required that he move from his Twisp home to Jamie’s Place for close care and oversight, but his behavior became more than the facility could deal with — as is frequently the case with dementia patients.

“Jamie’s did an amazing job,” Ginger said of Don’s three-month stay there. “But there’s a point where they can’t have him there.”

That point came in early August after Don wandered away from the facility and was found on Highway 20, disrupting traffic, until an officer from the Winthrop Marshal’s Office “gently returned him to Jamie’s,” Ginger said.

“Unfortunately, later that day Don took out all his energy, frustration and agitation on his room,” Ginger said. “We took him straight from Jamie’s to Central Washington Hospital,” with the help of Ginger’s sister, Victoria Walker.

The trip to Wenatchee was an adventure in itself.

“On the drive down, Don tried to unscrew every knob in the car (some successfully) and shredded an entire box of Kleenex,” Ginger said in a note to friends. “The air conditioning caused some swirling flakes. Other than making it hard to see at times, it was kind of relaxing to be in a Kleenex squall.

“He couldn’t stop,” Ginger said later. “We felt bad.”

That night, Don was admitted to the hospital’s mental health unit.

“They are amazing and so kind … the doctors are so compassionate,” she said of the Central Washington staff. “But he [Don] still wants to get out of there.”

Dealing with the process

Because Don’s condition deteriorated so quickly, Ginger said she hadn’t taken steps to initiate the VA process for finding a dementia facility and had to scramble to catch up.

The bureaucratic maze — Ginger calls it “red, white and blue tape” — has been a bit frustrating with its Catch 22 moments, said Ginger, who has spent untold hours on the phone sorting things out for Don. “Sometimes it feels like we’re going in circles,” she said.

Before Don could be placed in a VA contract facility, he was required to have an exam — but he was not allowed to leave the hospital for that procedure.

Through perseverance, Ginger ultimately reached “the right person” in the Spokane VA office and “got some things straightened out,” including the required exam.

“They won’t release him until he has a place to go,” Ginger said. The closest such facility is in Moses Lake, so “the hope is to get him there,” Ginger said. “We’re getting him in the right place. Everyone is there for Don.”

“I want him to be safe, and I want him to be as happy as he can be,” Ginger added.

She also praised the efforts of VA representative Eric Fritz in Tonasket. “He’s a jewel and has kept everything moving forward,” she said.

Knowing what was coming

Don Reddington was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago, and has been an outspoken proponent of acknowledging and living with the disease. His personal motto is “Life is good.” Don wrote a series of well-received articles, “Living With Alzheimer’s,” that appeared over several months in the Methow Valley News in 2015.

Later, the articles were combined with other stories and photography in the special magazine, “Living With Alzheimer’s: the Reddington Project,” which was produced by the Methow Valley News with the assistance of community donations that helped cover costs.

At the time of the magazine’s publication, Don was cognizant of what he was going through and could expect. He foretold this time in his life with typical candor about coping with the inexorable disease. He feared losing his ability to speak and thus his ability to share his message.

“I wanted to talk to you right away,” he said during an interview in 2016. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to explain all this.”

In July 2017, Don and his daughter Donni completed the “Ride4Alzheimers,” a circuit of the state on a motorcycle driven by Donni, with Don in a sidecar.

The eight-day, 1,300-mile tour of the state by motorcycle was part of Don’s ongoing campaign to promote awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and how everyone affected can best cope with it. The “Ride4Alzheimers” adventure took the Reddingtons to Seattle, Olympia, Yakima and Spokane before concluding in Wenatchee.

His ability to effectively communicate has declined steadily over the year since then. “What shows up now is anger,” Ginger said. “He wants his freedom and can’t have it. He walks when he is agitated because he has always been so physical.”

“Alzheimer’s starts out quietly. Then you see a little progression, and then a bigger progression, and then pow,” Ginger said. “We try not to use the word ‘journey.’ It’s just life.”

Ginger said she and the Reddington family are hoping to continue Don’s mission to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s.

“We promise that for Don,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Donni Reddington
Donni Reddington enjoyed a conversation with her father, Don, who no longer recognizes her as his daughter due to the progression of his Alzheimer’s disease.

A daughter’s tribute

My dad is gone, he no longer recognizes me as his daughter. I am now his best friend. I am still important in his life and that’s all that really matters to me. Words have become obsolete in his life, only annoying hiccups that slow him down and cause more confusion and frustration. His independence has been substituted with 24-hour care where he is now completely dependent. This disease has been one of the most-challenging chapters my family has had to endure. I don’t wish this disease upon anyone but what I do want to tell you is to live, love and experience as much as you can today.

— Donni Reddington