Sue & Eli Cooper
Sue & Eli Cooper on beach. (Courtesy of Eli Cooper)

Sue and Eli Cooper, members of Temple Israel, met on JDate and married in 2007. Sue, who had a longtime career in radio, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2013 at age 53.

Talking to Eli Cooper, 61, about his wife Sue’s early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, one can’t help but note that he doesn’t just talk about “her” diagnosis, that “she” alone received it and how it has affected her. For him, it’s a “we” situation.

“When we received our diagnosis, the Alzheimer’s Association social worker was there with us at Henry Ford Hospital,” he said. “It felt like I jumped into the deep end of the information pool. I had no idea of what I was confronting. I knew it was incurable and progressive. I read all 30 books (on the resource list) in two weeks.

“My curious brain wanted to know what I needed to know to get in the best possible position to take care of my wife.”

The Coopers, members of Temple Israel, met on JDate and married in 2007. Sue, who had a longtime career in radio, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2013 at age 53. She is now 60.

The couple was interviewed by the Jewish News in 2016. At that time, Sue was able to participate in the conversation. But now, Eli speaks on her behalf. What started off as a hard time with recall, an inability to complete complex tasks and a greater propensity for getting lost, Sue now needs assistance with everyday tasks. She can no longer drive, use a computer or prepare meals.

“There’s been a requirement for constant supervision,” Eli said. “It’s through the graces of Jewish Family Service that have enabled me to maintain my position in Ann Arbor” as the city’s transportation manager.

Eli and Sue Cooper will once again participate in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s event.
Sue and Eli Cooper vacationing in Florida. Courtesy of Eli Cooper

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eli said he feels “blessed” to be able to stay home and care for Sue 24/7 while also working remotely. Before the pandemic, Sue had caregivers, Helene and Sandy, who came in to care for her twice a day. Sue also was involved in art activities at the Soul Studio at the Friendship Circle’s Farber Center and with adult Alzheimer’s day care at the Dorothy and Peter Brown Center, both in West Bloomfield.

“She got a diversity of exposure,” Eli said. “Familiarity and diversity are great to keep the brain engaged. I enrolled her in different programs so that she would have consistency and variety. The Soul Studio and the Brown Center have been absolutely wonderful, and we have been very fortunate that we have the support organizations in our midst.”

A Hand-in-Hand Journey

Right now, Eli and Sue walk regularly, hand in hand, around their West Bloomfield neighborhood. They will also once again take part in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s Event on Sept. 26. Like many other fundraising events, the walk is virtual this year. Association staff encourage participants to walk where they are while raising funds the organization will use to fund Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

Eli said he and Sue have raised approximately $2,000 for Team Sue through August. Their team includes five to six members to keep things safe and properly distanced. Eli endorses others to support the cause, considering that much research is needed to help those with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the association website, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, with approximately 200,000 Americans who have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. All told, the disease will cost the country $305 billion in associated health care expenses this year.

“As someone who is living with the disease, those numbers, as staggering as they are, are real,” Eli said. “Unfortunately, we were chosen to walk this path, but we’re blessed in Metro Detroit to have resources.”

Eli encourages anyone who receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to call the Alzheimer’s Association, which can provide guidance in identifying medical and support resources as well as legal help. He also calls the association’s helpline at (800) 272-3900 if he needs prompt support.

Additionally, Eli draws upon his faith along with friends and family who provide Sue and him with love and care.

“We are in this for the long haul,” he said “My North Star is I want my wife to have the things that I would want to have if I were in her situation.

“As long as you have love and spirituality — regardless of what is in front of you — you can get through it. It’s having the relationship that we have that helps feed my optimism.”

Click here for more information about the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday, Sept. 26.

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