Alzheimer’s volunteer a real Guardian Angel

Jessie Pergrin

Jessie Pergrin has helped many families through the emotionally wrenching journey that comes with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

At least for one family, she was a real Guardian Angel.

Tucson Medical Center recently received a donation in Pergrin’s name under the Guardian Angel program, which allows for donations of any size to be made in honor of a TMC physician, nurse, or other caregiver who made a difference for a patient or their families.

The 86-year-old Pergrin, who is widely considered one of Tucson’s leading experts on Alzheimer’s and related dementias, works tirelessly on the cause, meeting with families and running multiple support groups, including two at Tucson Medical Center’s Senior Services.

Pergrin, a nurse by trade with a doctorate in epidemiology, was long interested in the social aspects of aging, including memory problems and depression, but it wasn’t until 1980 that she became more focused on Alzheimer’s. Literature on the disease was relatively sparse at the time, but Pergrin knew it was an area that sorely needed attention.

“People get the diagnosis and they don’t know what to do,” Pergrin said, adding the most important need of both patients and caregivers is to become more educated about the disease and its progression.

For example, she walks caregivers through coping skills: Never argue, never disagree, never confront.

And for patients, she recommends if their first stop is from a medical professional to get the diagnosis, their second stop needs to be an elder law attorney’s office to settle their estate and draw up living wills and establish powers of attorney. “Once people begin losing their memory, then they become very suspicious and paranoid and will often accuse people of stealing their money or their wallet,” she explained.

“If they have information, it just makes it so much easier. There’s a lot of denial. People don’t want to believe it’s happening to them or a loved one,” said Pergrin.

Support groups for both patients and caregivers are held weekly at TMC’s Senior Services Department at El Dorado. There is also a monthly film series for those affected by Alzheimer’s, with the next feature coming up in mid-April.

“There are a lot of resources in Tucson, but people don’t always know about them,” Pergrin said.

As for the honor, she said it was much appreciated. “I was pleased, of course, but I this isn’t a one-person show. People who volunteer or who have been affected share their stories with friends, at church, at their fitness centers. Those who have been touched by the disease in some way are very supportive.”

For more information about the Guardian Angel donation program, call 324-5978 or log on to

For more information about TMC’s Alzheimer’s program, log on to or call 324-1960.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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