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Caregivers making an impact on The Longest Day


Jessica Harris and Michelle Davis both have lost close family members to Alzheimers disease. Click the tabs below to read their stories of their family members own journeys of Alzheimers disease and what they are doing to raise critical awareness and funds for The Longest Day.

Jessica HarrisMy Grandmother spicy personality and zest for life
By Jessica Harris - Caregiver & Granddaughter

When my dear friend Ylandus Roundy, Manager of The Longest Day, Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, asked me to participate in a volunteer event at her office, I immediately felt my paternal grandmother’s spirit calling me to action. In 2013, my wonderful grandmother passed from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

My grandmother was officially diagnosed in 2006, though like many families, we had missed some of the early signs years before due to a lack of awareness of the depths of the disease. We often attributed her less favorable behavior – such as her increased irritability in the evening – to her "spicy" personality. None of us knew that this was a symptom known in the medical world as sundowning or late–day confusion. We learned so much along her journey, particularly in my own household as my immediate family (my parents and I) were her primary caregivers. Though an experience unlike any other, we found ways to cherish the good times and the moments of clarity and to make new memories, and we gave her the best we could offer until her last day.

On behalf of my family, I have decided this year to lead a fundraising campaign and host a special family gathering to honor the fifth anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. She was a simple lady who valued family above all else, and though she lived to 82, we know Alzheimer’s robbed her of some of her glory years.

My grandmother was a first generation Sicilian American raised in New Orleans. As a result, our family carries a rich history of traditions, and we will infuse that culture into our campaign and event. Purple being the shade of choice for The Longest Day is befitting as it is one of the colors of Mardi Gras, representing justice.

It is my hope that there may one day be a cure, and finally break the curse of this dreadful disease. 

#TeamForeverFrancesJ 

Michelle DavisAlzheimer’s activist, caregiver and daughter
Story told by Michelle Davis - Caregiver & Daughter

“1968 was a year of many firsts for me,” Michelle Davis said. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, my brother was born and I began third grade at an integrated school.”

The Chicago native highlights the tumultuous political climate on the brink of a revolutionary period of the late 1960s.

“My family had just moved from the South Side of Chicago to Maywood. Maywood at that time was primarily white so it was different from me coming from the south side of Chicago,” Davis said. “I was only eight, but I learned to adapt and became more mature during that time.  My mom had sent me to the grocery store to get some cornmeal because she was pregnant. The store was only around the corner, but I remember men outside marching around in a circle holding signs that said “Don’t Buy.” That ’s when I first understood the meaning of picketing.”

Davis reminisces about her close-knit family and strong mother, who always inspired her to give back and be kind to others.

She accredits her parents for their powerful encouragement and her blaring activist passion.

“When my dad passed away, he told me to take care of my mom,” Davis said. “He didn’t have to tell me twice, they were always there for me so now it was my turn to be there for them.”

“It was 2013 and I was working many hours,” Davis said. “It was around this time that I started noticing some odd changes with my mom.”

“Her driving skills had always been impeccable. However, one of the days she came over to my house and her car was just parked diagonally – which was odd for her as she had always parked so well. Another odd thing I noticed was she was buying a lot of white out and vinegar. She was using the white out for cancelled checks she had written and using the vinegar to neutralize a burnt smell, as she was burning food she was cooking. She also had all our birthdays written down on a calendar, but all the days were off.”

Davis knew something was amiss and turned to her brother for assistance. He claimed her absence behavior was a part of normal ageing habits and assured Davis there was nothing to be wary about.

“I have always let people do what they think is best for them,” Davis said. “But my mother’s behavior was very different from anything I had experienced before. My husband and I moved in with her to observe the changes she was going through, mainly for her safety.”

“One day when my mom started driving erratically down the street she had lived on for 50 years, I had to take the keys away from her. Not out of spite, but out of love. I remembered the words my dad told me to look out for my mother and I couldn’t bear to think her safety was in jeopardy.”

“It was around this time, my brother started to notice the change in mom as well,” Davis said. “I was taking my youngest daughter to law school in Texas and my brother called me constantly about Mom’s odd behavior.

In October 2015, Davis took her mother to her general care doctor for a referral for an MRI at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. The neurologists conducted interviews, ran tests, and ensured Davis would finally get answers.

By December 7, 2015, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I look at Alzheimer’s disease as a journey. I never embraced the bad life of Alzheimer’s, but rather I wanted to make sure my mom had the best life possible,” Davis said.

As her mother’s disease progressed, exercising brain muscles became vital in improving cognitive function.

Davis wanted to support not only her mother, but the millions of Americans grappling with the changes of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was June 20th 2016, when I came across The Longest Day,” Davis said. “Initially, I thought the website looked cool” she chuckled “but I actually loved the whole concept of doing something you enjoy to honor that person for the day. It was late to register at the time, but I had come across my mom’s old high school prom photos and I decided to scrapbook all day.”

“Last year, June 2017, it was 2 weeks and I remembered I had to register for The Longest Day. I knew I was on a time constraint so I called the number that was listed on the website. I ended up speaking with Ylandus Roundy, Manager of The Longest Day, who sent me a box of pamphlets the following day.”

“I wanted to do another scrapbooking event, but my brother suggested we do a cook-out in the backyard. We only expected to raise about $500, because we planned this last minute.”

However, donations from family and friends from around the country helped Davis raise over $1,500 for Alzheimer’s care, support and research in two weeks.

“Something just felt right about the Alzheimer’s Association,” Davis said. “A few weeks before I initially found The Longest Day, I found a check written out to the Alzheimer’s Association from Gracie. What I discovered was my mother had been donating to the Association since 1993, so I knew my work with the Alzheimer’s Association was a perfect fit.”

 

Alzheimer's Association

Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.