Audrey Inman of McLean leads a support group for individuals who are dealing with family members or friends who suffer from any of the many forms of dementia, but it was a long and painful road that brought her to that place.
Inman is a Groton High School alumna (Audrey Gleason ’69) with a rich Groton history that came before her. Her great-grandparents left Hammondsport, NY with their three sons and a daughter to settle in Groton when their sons attended Cornell University.
Inman’s grandfather, Ed Gleason, met and married Rose Howe of Groton, settled on the corner of Old Stage Road and Clark Street, and raised their own three children, Roger, Margaret (who some may remember as Peggy Hill when she married Ed Hill), and Edmond.
Roger Gleason was Inman’s father. Her mother was the daughter of Edwin and Charlotte Houghton – Grace Ann, or Gay, as most knew her by. Together they raised six children on Old Stage Road. Inman was second in the proverbial pecking order.
Inman said her childhood dream was to become a veterinarian, but that never came to fruition for her because she met her husband, Larry, on a blind date arranged by her sister and boyfriend, when she was just 16 years old. They fell in love, married, raised three children of their own, and celebrated their 47th anniversary in 2015.
So far, this sounds like a “happily-ever-after” sort of story, doesn’t it? It may have started that way, but things began to unravel in the early 2000s.As the Inmans raised their family, Larry worked at a few different places before settling into his 30-year career at Iroquois Telephone in Dryden, known to us today as Frontier, where he started out as an installer and then became a switchman.
In the meantime, Audrey attended TST BOCES and obtained her cosmetology certificate in 1989 and began working in her field. She said, “my clientele sort of morphed into mostly the elderly. That turned out to be a training ground for me that I certainly did not know at the time.”
Once Larry became a switchman at his job, progress in the world began to run a rapid race into the realm of computers, and he began having issues with his ability to focus and concentrate on things. Attributing it to the stress of learning the new technology, he hung in for a while, but doing his job well was just not working for him anymore, so he retired in 2002.
Still needing to make a living, Larry tried a few other odd jobs, but then found what he thought would be his niche at Enterprise Car Rental. At first, he was doing rather well, but he and Audrey began to realize how difficult it was becoming for him to function if he had to multi-task in any way. Driving and traffic began to cause him to become agitated very quickly.
Things got progressively worse, and Larry began to lose things – mostly if he carried them in his left hand. “Then it got to where he would have something in his left hand, but he was insistent that he had lost it,” Audrey said. “He used to love wood carving and other projects, but he started not completing projects and that was not like him at all.”
In 2007, Larry had to leave his job at Enterprise, as his very personality began to yo-yo. He began to vacillate between angry, irrational outbursts and a mellow, laid-back attitude, described by Audrey as “almost overnight.”
It was at this point Audrey knew something was terribly wrong. Larry saw a doctor, then a neurologist, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Even knowing that was not much comfort for Audrey as Larry’s behaviors made “the struggle very real. I began to consider divorce,” she said, “but my faith in God prevailed. I felt like I was standing before Him and He was asking me if I was going to stay married and keep my commitment or walk away.”
Audrey came to the realization at that point that she had to face her fears.
“Some were ant-sized and could be squashed, and some I had to just embrace”, she said. “And all along, Larry was always aware that he was losing his abilities, which is not typical of most Alzheimer’s victims.”
Through the course of the next few years, Larry was taking numerous medications that would help in some ways, but Audrey said, “most of the time his life would decline and plateau. He had to stop driving in 2011 because he kept getting lost, and he had also begun to be physically abusive to me.”
As things spiraled more and more out of control with Larry’s behaviors, he was sent to a neurologist in the Rochester area, where it was discovered that his diagnosis was corticobasal degeneration; a rare, neurodegenerative disease involving the cerebral cortex and the basal ganglia.
At the encouragement of friends, Audrey began attending a local support group in 2010, but it was, in her words, “a pivotal awakening for me, as I realized how little hope and how much a lack of faith others there had versus what I had to carry me through.” She felt she was more a support to them than the other way around.
In 2013, Audrey was compelled to retire completely from her job and from even attending the support group because Larry began to lose even more of his abilities rapidly. By July of 2015, his mental health took a more aggressive descent, as he began having hallucinations that could last two or three hours sometimes.
Larry’s inclinations toward physical abuse accelerated, particularly as he did not always know who Audrey was, and thought she was an intruder in his home. “I had to remove every mirror in my house,” Audrey said, “because he would think anyone in them were more intruders.”
Audrey’s neighbors and her church family “were my lifeline through everything,” she said. “People were always there for me, mowing my lawn, taking care of snow, anything!”
In August of 2015, Larry had another of many CT scans, and it was discovered that his brain had deteriorated considerably and that he had developed Lewy body dementia; clumps of protein that can form in the brain, that when built up can cause problems with the way your brain works.
After six weeks in the hospital, and one month in a nursing home, Larry passed away Nov. 10, 2015. For the next two years, Audrey established her “new normal,” and learned how to live her life again without being a caregiver 24/7, but at the end of 2017, she happened to have a conversation with a neighbor who had a relative suffering from dementia.
Audrey remembered her time in her former support group where she felt hope was missing and wanted to do something with her experience that would help others in similar situations. “I knew it needed to be prayer-based support,” she said, “so I spoke to my pastor about it, and started up a support group at the Groton Women’s Center.”
When the women’s center was no longer an option, Audrey began having the group meet in her home. “I just want to be a blessing to people and help them know they are not alone”, she said. “All are welcome to come from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every third Thursday of the month at 211 McLean Road, or call or text me at (607) 745-1224 for more information.”
Audrey would also like people to know her Havanese dog, Boots, is also an integral part of the support group. She said, “he has a sense for who is hurting the most each week and goes right to them.” She said her motto for her home is “Peace to all who enter here.”
Spaghetti and an auctionThe Groton High School After-Prom committee is planning a fundraising spaghetti dinner to be held at Stonehedges Golf Course, 549 Stevens Road, from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 30.
Cost is $12 per person, $6 for children age 12 and under. Dinner will include spaghetti and meatballs, tossed salad, bread and butter, coffee, and dessert, with a cash bar available.
For tickets, contact Colleen Dittman at (607) 351-7044, Heidi Corcoran at (607) 279-5238.
Groton Senior ClubThe Groton Senior Club will meet on Wednesday, March 27 at the Groton American Legion on Main St. Sign-ins and fellowship begin at 11:30 a.m. A dish-to-pass lunch begins at 12 noon, with entertainment and a business meeting to follow.
Members are reminded to bring their own table service, as well as a serving utensil for their shared dish/dessert. This month, members are asked to bring non-perishable items to be donated to the Groton Food Pantry.
This club typically meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at the American Legion. For more information, please contact Jane Belonsoff at (315) 496-2125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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