PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Billie Cook types up notes to leave around her Portsmouth house. They are reminders for her husband, Keith, who is living with dementia.

“It’s a blessing, but I just feel it just bothers me that I can’t help her because I can’t help myself,” Keith told WAVY.

Billie is, unfortunately, a pro at caregiving. Both of her parents had Alzheimer’s. Her dad died in an assisted living facility in 2017 and her mom moved in with her in March after they ran out of money.

Billie Cook’s parents, who both had Alzheimer’s (Courtesy of Billie Cook)

“I always felt … she deserves better than this … because she’s my mom,” Billie said.

Caregiving costs a lot. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that caregivers nationwide provided 524 million hours of unpaid care last year, valued at more than $8.5 billion. Then there’s the physical, mental and emotional cost.

“I’m not going to tell you where it is, but there’s an overpass, I would go and I would sit in my car some days and I would just cry I would just cry,” Billie said.

She started a support group that meets at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month at Third Baptist Church in Portsmouth.

Now she and other caregivers cry together, but more importantly they laugh and share resources.

“Do not suffer in silence … it’ll kill you. We have seen too many caregivers die and leave their loved ones here,” Billie said.

Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia offers in-home help, care coordination, Meals on Wheels and more. The Alzheimer’s Association provides support groups, education and a 24-hour helpline.

That can help caregivers take better care of themselves and their loved one who may no longer be able to say as Keith did: “That I love her and I wish I could do more to help myself.”