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Couple aims to be strong in Alzheimer’s battle

Steele County Times - Staff Photo - Create Article
Norma Rumpf displays a sign she painted in the front yard of her West Concord home that boldly proclaims, “Let’s end Alzheimer’s together.” At only 61, she has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for eight years. She and her husband Jim are the honorary family for this year’s Alzheimer’s Walk in Owatonna Sunday. Submitted photo
Rumpfs featured as honorary family for Sunday’s walk
Rick Bussler, Publisher
“It’s not a death sentence. It’s a life-changing sentence.”
-Jim Rumpf, Wife’s Caregiver

When Norma Rumpf was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 53, she and her husband faced what they considered two options: give in and let it take over or be strong and fight.

The West Concord couple chose the latter.

“We push forward. We gathered up strength and took on the fight,” said Jim Rumpf.

And now eight years later, they are still fighting and representing Steele County as this year’s honorary family for the Alzheimer’s Walk, which gets underway Sunday morning at the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna.

The theme for this year’s walk couldn’t be more fitting for the Rumpfs. It is “Together, we can end Alzheimer’s disease.”

At the time of her diagnosis in 2015, Norma Rumpf was managing security for a company in Missouri. She was forced to leave her job early and soon lost her driver’s license.

Jim said she began having issues at work with scheduling and ordering things twice. Driving had also become a safety concern, as she experienced space issues with stop signs and navigating where the side of the road was.

In the case of the Rumpfs, dealing with Alzheimer’s was a life changer. They went through the grieving process with a wide variety of emotions, including denial, anger and depression. But, Jim emphasized, “We have come out stronger on the other end. When you’re facing adversity, you have to keep your shoulder to the wheel.”

Jim, who is 10 years older than Norma, took on the role of full-time caregiver. They moved “back home” to Dodge County, where other family members live. Her mother is in assisted living in Byron, and she has other family in Dodge Center.

Alzheimer’s has already had a devastating impact on their family. Since her diagnosis, Norma has lost both her father and a sister to the disease.

But Jim and Norma aren’t about to give in.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Jim said. “It’s a life-changing sentence. You have to expect things will change in life and change the way you look at life. You have to tap the inner strength you have.”

Jim is convinced everyone has strength inside of themselves, and the challenge is to find it.

In addition to taking care of his wife, Jim is also a song writer. He has written a special song as a tribute for his wife’s condition called, “Strong,” which will be played at Sunday’s walk.

While Alzheimer’s has totally altered their lives, Jim sees the diagnosis as both a positive and negative. The negative aspects are obvious in dealing with someone whose mind is slipping.

“It changed us quite a bit, but it hasn’t been negative,” he said. “It changes your life, but change isn’t always bad. We have become stronger and closer.”

That closeness is evident every day at 3 p.m., when the couple gathers for Tee Time, in which they play a 9-hole round of golf on their TV gaming system.

“We make sure we take the time every day to do something together,” Jim explained. “We are each other’s greatest strength. It tightens the bond.”

Norma, 61, said they are focused on playing at least one mind game every day.

“He is a real good caregiver. He doesn’t let me sit around,” she said of her husband of nearly 40 years.

Acknowledging she did not like her father living in a memory care unit prior to his death, Norma said: “He is going to keep me at home as long as possible.”

Norma sees a therapist on a regular basis because she has a hard time with acceptance.

“I know it’s a real thing, but I am not ready to give up,” she said, adding she is well aware that there are things she simply can’t do any longer.

Two years ago, Norma converted a basketball back board into a sign she painted with the words, “Let’s end Alzheimer’s together.” It’s displayed in their front yard. She has also designed decals with the same slogan and shares them with people.

Making a trip to the Memory Café at the Steele County History Center has become a regular routine for the couple. They learned about the café from MaryAnne Higgins at last year’s Alzheimer’s Walk.

“It’s great socialization, and we get to mingle with the crowd,” Jim said of the twice monthly program aimed at families dealing with dementia. “It’s now woven into our lives.”

For the Rumpfs, dealing with Alzheimer’s disease has been challenging and something they never expected.

“It has forced me to put a whole different perspective on things,” Jim said. “The opportunity to bond more tightly more than makes up for the extra things I have to do. It has made me a better man for going through this,” he added.

He encourages people to take part in Sunday’s walk, which will help raise funds for research to find a cure and spread awareness.

The Rumpfs are grateful Norma’s diagnosis came as early as it did.

“It helped stabilize the situation,” Jim said. “We are so far ahead of where we thought we would be. That’s remarkable to me.”

He adds that Norma is doing remarkably well largely because of the professional help she is getting.

And Jim’s caregiving focused on strength and fighting hasn’t hurt either.

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