With no other relatives to help him, the Oxford resident spent the first three years caring for his mother, working 12 hours a day then spending the rest of his time with her. He'd have to turn off the stove tops and oven for her every day. Sometimes neighbors would call to say his mother had wandered from her house, forcing him to leave work and find her.
Caring for her drained his and her savings. A full night's sleep for Collins was a forgotten luxury.
"It had been a real struggle mentally," Collins said.
Last year, however, after several tries, Collins got his mother, now 84 years old, on Medicaid to pay for her care at a long-term care facility, NHC Health Care in Anniston.
"She's in the best place she can be right now," Collins said.
Collins was one of 20 people, including local physicians, caregivers and nurses, who attended a community meeting today hosted by the Alabama Alzheimer's Task Force at NHC Health Care. The meeting was the seventh of 13 meetings the state-created task force has scheduled across Alabama this year. Members of the task force will use feedback from the meetings to develop a state Alzheimer's plan for Gov. Robert Bentley in February. The plan will serve as a blueprint on how the state can address the needs and problems associated with the disease.
Brandi Medina, director of programs and education for the Alzheimer's Association Huntsville office, who organized the meeting, said other diseases like cancer have comprehensive state plans and Alzheimer's deserves one as well.
"The ones that have plans like cancer, there's a lot of research and funding that goes into them," Medina said. "We need something for Alzheimer's."
Many of the recommendations provided by the meeting attendees centered on improved education for family members and physicians and increased group support.
"We get calls all the time about people who are very confused about the disease," said Vance Holder, program director for Alzheimer's of Central Alabama. "And we need more funding for services to help these families."
Collins said more education would have helped him better care for his mother.
"When my mother was diagnosed, the doctor just threw a pamphlet down for me to read and that was pretty much it," Collins said.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the number of patients diagnosed with the disease is growing across the country. The association's statistics show there are approximately 91,000 Alzheimer's patients in Alabama, compared to about 84,000 in 2000. The organization estimates that amount will grow to 110,000 people with the disease by 2025.
Approximately 5 million people live with Alzheimer's nationwide, the statistics show.
Dr. Erik Roberson, associate professor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who was not at the meeting, said Alzheimer's is a growing concern across the country.
"It's increasing mainly because we are living longer," Roberson said. "It's getting to be more common."
Roberson said the Alzheimer's issue is a particular problem for Alabama because much of the state is rural, leaving many residents with less access to health care. Also, there are not many neurologists in Alabama, particularly those who specialize in Alzheimer's disease.
"You basically have to come to UAB to see someone with sub-specialty training in Alzheimer's," Roberson said.
Roberson said he'd like to see more investment at the state level in Alzheimer's research and in community support for families dealing with the disease.
Patsy McCartney of Anniston had to check her mother into NHC Health Care four years ago after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. McCartney said she was concerned about the lack of education provided about Alzheimer's and advised anyone just starting to deal with the disease to research as much as possible.
"Really pursue it in getting information on what to expect and for handling different situations," McCartney said.
McCartney added that she thought the meeting and the Alzheimer's plan would be beneficial.
"We have to start somewhere to make people more aware of it," McCartney said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.