His mother doesn’t know him, and he doesn’t know what to think about that at times. He visits her daily, but seldom does she acknowledge his presence, but when she becomes angry for whatever reason, it is his name she screams in the hallways of the Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling.
Randy Forzano is the human resources director for the Welty Home for the Aged, a non-profit organization that operates independent and assisted living facilities and the Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling. Forzano graduated from East Liverpool High School in 1975, and then earned his public service undergraduate degree from West Liberty University in 1979. He began his career with Welty soon after graduation and has compiled more than 26 years with the organization.
The Good Shepherd Nursing Home houses as many 192 residents, and Forzano estimated that about 70 percent of the patients are suffering from some form of disease connected to dementia. He acknowledges the illnesses are prevalent not just here in this region but throughout the United States.
But never did he believe his parents, Bonnie and Dick, would suffer from a form of dementia the same as do many of the Good Shepherd residents. Forzano’s father lived at the Welty Home for more than seven years, but his mother has resided at Good Shepherd for the past six years suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“She used to call me, ‘Randall Lee’ when I was younger at the times she wasn’t that happy with me,” Forzano recalled. “So I don’t know; maybe there’s something there where if there’s something she doesn’t like, she’s going to tell her son. I don’t know.
“There are times when she’s not talking to me, but she’s talking to someone else, and she can’t tell me whom she’s talking to,” he continued. “I never believed my mother would have a doll, but she does, and it seems to give her some comfort. She shows more affection toward that doll than she does to me, and maybe because she was a Sunday school teacher for 50 years, and she always loved the kids.
“So maybe there’s something, but again, I don’t know. No one knows. That’s another of the frustrating things that family members experience in these situations. We just don’t know what to think, and that’s why I started doing presentations. When my mother stopped being the mother I knew, I realized that the staff did not see the person I saw – the person that she used to be.”
Forzano began speaking to the Good Shepherd staff members, and he has since addressed employees at eight other facilities in the Upper Ohio Valley area. He hopes to do many more, and that’s because of what he sees when visiting with his mother each morning.
“It was my way of showing them who she is and who she was; now I can say that the mother I knew died four years ago,” Forzano said. “I’m OK with saying that now. The person I see today is not the person whom I knew, and after the presentation for our staff they all said that I needed to go out and try to show other staff members the same. That’s because every staff has a ‘Bonnie’ they are caring for. It’s just a different name.
“I have written stories about her, and I have collected photographs of her so the staff can see what I see instead of the person she is today,” he said. “Now that I am experiencing what I am experiencing, I now realize how important that is, and it’s been very therapeutic for me; that’s for sure. When I started writing the stories, my hope was that someone else would read them and benefit from them. Maybe someone else could do the same thing to let the staff know what they need to know.
“And I know that not all family members can get up and talk about their parents when they are suffering from this illness, but the facilities can work with the family to help make it better for their loved ones,” Forzano said. “Even a scrapbook made by the family members that can stay in the resident’s room might help some when the resident gets agitated.”
Alzheimer’s disease was known as, “Organic Brain Syndrome” when Forzano initially entered the medical field in the 1980s, and still there are no known causes and no known cure. Through the years medications have been developed that are expected to slow the progression of the affliction, but much about the illness remains a mystery.
What Forzano knows for sure is that his mother would not be pleased with the way she is living today, but at 91 years old something keeps her going as she is.
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“She is living on health shakes and puddings, but she goes all day long. She scoots up and down the hallways all day long, and that’s how she was when she was a mother of six kids – always on the move,” he said. “It’s difficult to explain, and maybe it’s just me trying to recognize something as often as possible.
“This is a lady who didn’t have a driver’s license, but that didn’t stop her from starting the ‘Meals on Wheels’ program in East Liverpool. Her faith was always very important to her, but once she stopped going to church, I think that’s when I knew something was changing. Something was wrong.”
Forzano’s father did move to Good Shepherd once his dementia issues worsened, and his dad died three days later.
“That first evening he played bingo and won a bag of chips, and he was pretty happy about that. But when I asked him if he wanted to go see Mom, he said he just wanted to get more settled in,” he remembered. “The next morning he was unresponsive, and he passed away two days later.
“The sad thing is that I don’t think my mother knew when he died,” Forzano explained. “As a part of my presentation I explain that one of the hardest things I had to do was take my mother to my father when he was dying. I wanted her to say goodbye, somehow, but they were unable to do that.
“I placed my mother’s hand on his and told her, ‘Mom, you need to tell the old boy goodbye,’ but she didn’t say anything. They had been married for something like 70 years, so I didn’t know, but that was difficult.”
Forzano’s brothers and sisters visit their mother as often as possible. Bonnie and Dick met each other while both were members of the American military. The couple then set up their lives in East Liverpool, where he operated the Travelers Hotel, and she tended to the family. Randy has three older brothers, an older sister, and a younger sister, and while he and one sister are local, four of his siblings reside several hours away.
“They all visit as much as they can; my wife Robin visits with her every weekend, and of course, I am with her every day,” he said. “My brother who lives in Virginia will get in his car and drive here to visit, but then he can only stay with her for five minutes. He turns around and then drives back to Virginia. It’s very difficult for him. It’s hard for all of us.
“But a lot of families do stop visiting their loved ones because they just can’t deal with it,” Forzano explained. “I try to explain to staff members during my presentations that there may be another reason why they stop their visits, so I try to share with them that it’s not easy for a family members to see their loved ones that way. It’s not easy, and I believe the staff members need to realize those struggles.”
The primary reason why Forzano has started speaking with staff members who care for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is based on what he did not realize when counseling family members with suffering loved ones throughout his career.
“After working with hundreds and hundreds of families whose parents were going through the same thing,” Forzano said. “I never truly believed my parents would go through the same things.
“I always used to say to families how it was making them feel, but now I truly understand, and I now know that I didn’t have a clue what they were going through,” he said. “Whatever the diagnosis, no one really knows what the experience is about until they experience it themselves, and it opened my eyes. Now my purpose is for staff members that take care of individuals such as my mom to see those individuals as they are viewed by the family members and not just as another patient.”
Forzano soon will take that mission to Charleston as he is scheduled to present his, “What I See” program to the state Social Workers Conference in two weeks.
“My hope is that there will be over 2,000 social workers in attendance at the conference,” Forzano said. “I doubt all of them will come to hear me speak, but my goal is to get that message out there so I can start going to other facilities and do staff education programs.
“That’s what I really want to do, and I want to do it so those staff members can see what the family members see. I have that perspective now, and I think it’s important for me to share it with others.”
Forzano can be contacted by calling 304-242-1093, ext. 143, or by emailing him at RForzano@WeltyHome.org.