Alzheimer'sTouches Several Branches In Arleth Family Tree

From 1992 until his death, President Ronald Reagan lived with Alzheimer's Disease. The awareness he brought to Alzheimer's will be commemorated in a candle light vigil in Long Beach on Friday night.

One person who already knows how the disease can affect a family is Cecile Arleth of Gulfport. Cecile Arleth keeps family photos to comfort her 84-year-old mother-in-law, Elsie.

"Now mom is going backwards in time," said Cecile. "She's no longer here everyday with us. The past is more recent to her so she's reliving those times."

Life changed for this family in 1997 when Elsie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

"There is that hurt that she doesn't know who we are, and she doesn't know exactly what's going on," said Cecile. "You have to keep remembering that right now, this moment, is important for her. She may not know my name. She might not know what to call her son or me, but she understands that we love her."

Alzheimer's and the Arleths have a long history. All five of Elsie's sisters developed the disease and so did her mother. Elsie's late husband Bernard also had Alzheimers. The disease has brought the whole family from uncles to cousins closer.

"This is a family legacy. This isn't something that is happening to Aunt Elsie. This is something that can happen to them in the future."

Cecile and her husband treasure their memories, but say it's difficult knowing Elsie can't understand them or understand the special things happening now. Still, they delight in her every kiss and every smile.

"One thing that we've taken out of it is that we cherish today. That you can't plan for more than today."

The Alzheimer's Foundation of the South is sponsoring the candlelight vigil. The vigil starts at 7:00 Friday night at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Long Beach. According to the foundation, about 54,000 Mississippians suffer from the disease.