SHREVEPORT, La. - Alzheimer's disease. Some call it the "the long goodbye."
Family members say it's heart-breaking to watch a loved one mentally degenerate as they physically fade away. When Worlita Williams of Mansfield lost her father in 2015, she painfully discovered she was losing her mother too.
She remembers hearing the diagnosis of dementia. "It was almost like a death sentence," Williams said.
Her mother, Francis Jackson, led an active life. She was in the homecoming court at Southern University; a wife, mother and went on to become a speech therapist for DeSoto Parish schools.
"My younger brother stuttered and so she was concerned with him stuttering that she decided to go back to school and pursue speech pathology," Williams said.
Now Jackson barely speaks at all. Alzheimer's, a form of dementia, slowly steals the life she once enjoyed.
"She's completely bedridden and when I read about the stages, she's probably in the forth stage of Alzheimer's," Williams said.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports more than 2,100 Alzheimer's deaths in 2017. That's a 170 percent increase since 2000. And there's no treatment or cure.
Dr. Elizabeth Disbrow, director of the Center for Brain Health at LSU Health Shreveport, describes the disease as devastating.
"We want to stop that process from continuing whatever that process is and we don't have anything that comes close to touching that yet," Disbrow said.
"And, this is one of the most recent pictures we have of her," Williams said as she looked through photographs. They are a sweet reminder of her once vibrant mother who took care of everyone else, including a husband of more than 60 years.
"It was my prayer that after she retired that she could do some things she could travel and doing some things in life. But after caring for my dad and him dying suddenly, her diagnosis came almost immediately after he passed," Williams said.
While her mother is still physically here, being cared for in the home, the gradual loss is agonizing. Williams says it's much different than when her father died of diabetes.
"I don't know if she's in pain or if she's crying or frowning because I can't get those answers from her. My dad, he was able to communicate so you could do things for him to help him feel better," Williams said.
The physical, financial, and emotional and toll on the family weighs heavily.
"My thing is that I always want her to understand that we love her and that we are there to care for her. And I just want her to everyday to feel like she's in a safe place. And that I've got her back," Williams said.
While there's no cure for Alzheimer’s, there's help for the caregiver. Saturday, there's a free educational Alzheimer's symposium. It's from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 2226 Murphy Street, Shreveport.