words by barbara hurley / photograph by john emerson
hinking back on it, Bernice Jerrell remembers little things about her then 68-year-old husband, Belford, that didn’t quite ring the danger bell at the time. He would drive past a yield sign or miss a turn into the driveway. Five and a half years ago, they went to the doctor to check on his high blood pressure and were sent for a brain scan. “The doctor must have suspected something,” she recalls.
And when her husband was told not to drive anymore, she knew that “something wasn’t right.” Two weeks later, they came back to hear the diagnosis: Alzheimer’s disease.
The news wasn’t entirely unexpected. Belford Jerrell was the ninth of ten children, and five of them suffered from the disease. “I think I suspected Alzheimer’s,” Mrs. Jerrell admits, “because of the family history. "
"We didn’t think about it; we didn’t want to, because nothing can be done about it.”
But they didn’t choose to do nothing. When doctors at the University’s New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging at UMDNJ’s School of Osteopathic Medicine suggested that Mr. Jerrell participate in a clinical trial, he was still able to make his own decision. And it was a positive one: it might not help him, he understood, but it could help others. Still, there was the hope that the progression of his disease could be forestalled.
The decision to join clinical trials at UMDNJ was not difficult for the Jerrells. They were pleased with the doctors and the staff. “You have to be comfortable about the trial and have all your questions answered,” Mrs. Jerrell advises. “You need to know why and what — injections, pills, whatever.” And she reports that participation in the clinical trials was a good way to keep her husband as healthy as possible in every respect.
Caring for him is not without stress, but she has a family support network with their three daughters, all living within three miles of their Williamstown home. With help from friends, the Jerrells still go to church each Sunday and out to brunch afterwards. She believes he is more stable now and that the clinical trials — he has participated in two — might have helped.
Jerrell was a union carpenter before early retirement more than 10 years ago. Now at 75, he is still the kind, caring man he has always been, according to his wife. “Someone else always comes first,” she says, “even now.”