HOUSTON - A loving wife, mother and grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer's disease at age 53 while her family faces difficult emotional and financial times.
From this family’s own struggles came an idea that could help other families dealing with the devastating disease.
Maria Friguls was just 53 years old when she first showed signs of Alzheimer's disease. She is one of an estimated 200,000 Americans diagnosed under the age of 65 with early onset Alzheimer's disease.
"Roughly 5 to 10 percent. We know there's a specific genetic mutation that's causing it," said Dr. Marc Argronin, a geriatric psychiatrist.
Last year, more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18 billion hours of unpaid care. They spent an average of more than $5,000 per year caring for a family member with Alzheimer's disease.
Maria Friguls' husband, Tony Friguls, re-allocated his energies and his passion to help other caregivers. He started a foundation called Baba's Bunch, after Maria's given nickname, Baba.
"We make a commitment with certain families for a year, and we send one person, eight hours per week for 52 weeks, to spend with the person's family," Tony said.
Baba's Bunch also holds regular support group meetings for family members and caregivers.
"Some of us have walked longer on this journey, so we try to see how to cope, because every once in a while, you get new challenges and you don't know they're going to come up," Tony Friguls said.
Last year, Baba's Bunch helped 91 families.