Why I Walk… Amy’s Story

Alzheimer’s taught us that love and kindness can be communicated and understood without words. My mom, Helen, found a new purpose in life: making those around her in the memory care home happy every day. Every time someone sees her, she is happy, smiling, singing or giving hugs. People seek her out when they are having a bad day. A hug from my mom still makes others feel better. Yes, there is a purpose in a life with Alzheimer’s. My mom is still making a difference in people’s lives despite this ugly disease.

My mom is the mother of four accomplished children who love her deeply, 11 grandchildren who call her “Nanny,” and four great-grandchildren. She married George, the love of her life in 1952. She loved books and took the lead in successfully running a fundraising campaign when her town needed a new library. She was full of energy, and her bright smile was, and still is, wonderful to be around. When she was 78 years old and in the prime of her retirement, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We were fortunate to find an incredible life care facility and got my mom moved in early enough in her diagnosis to make it a comfortable transition. She immediately made new friends and captured the hearts of her caregivers.  

Early on, facing the disease was challenging.  She was concerned and anxious about her failing mental capabilities. There was little we could do to boost her confidence other than assuring her that she was in a kind, gentle, and understanding environment.  Today, my mom doesn’t have the ability to communicate with us. She doesn’t remember her husband or her life in a wonderful small-town community that loved her. She doesn’t know her kids by name, and she is unable to read and continue to learn. As we stayed by her side and felt incredibly helpless, we started to notice the difference she made to those around her and how her happy attitude remained solid. And we started to learn compelling things about life and love.

We learned it is the simple things that matter. I find great solace in holding my mother’s hand, having her fall asleep in my arms, walking with her, listening to her intermittent words, and being thrilled when they occasionally make sense. She has few material things around her that matter. It is the love and care of others that makes the difference.  Yes, I miss my mom who I could communicate with and share life’s adventures, and yes, Alzheimer’s disease is truly dreadful. Yet we have found it comforting to know that in the middle of all of it, our mom remains happy and able to bring joy to others. And our lives are better because of what we have learned in the process.  

Why I Walk… Glenn’s Story

It has been almost five years since I lost my beloved wife of 56 wonderful years to Alzheimer’s. I not only walk in her memory, but for the 5.8 million people who are living with this disease. I walk to raise funds and awareness. I walk so that future generations won’t know the pain of watching the person they love most in the world succumb to this devastating disease. A disease for which there currently is no prevention, no treatment and no cure. A disease that claims more lives annually than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Eileen’s time with us was cut short thus, robbing her of a chance to see how our family has flourished as the last of our grandchildren have graduated from college, married and added other precious great-grandchildren to her legacy. 

I will be walking in the Springfield Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which will be at the Southwind Park on Saturday, September 21, 2019. My involvement does not stop with merely raising money or walking. I have been a Team Captain for the past five years, I have served on the Team Retention Committee and as Walk Committee Chair. I was Walk Co-chair, in a supporting role, for the 2018 Walk and currently serve as the Co-chair for the 2019 Walk in a lead role.

I’m committed to raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research, care and support. I need your support. Please make a donation, in Eileen’s memory, to help the Alzheimer’s Association advance research into methods of treatment, prevention and, ultimately, a cure. For the millions already affected by the disease, the Association offers care, education, support and resources in communities nationwide. Every donation helps, no matter how small. Together we can make a difference. 

This disease affects far too many lives. One out of every three American seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. I need your help so that we can continue to fund research to end this disease and provide support for the 230,000 Alzheimer’s patients in Illinois and their 588,000 caregivers. 

Why I Walk… Renee’s Story

Back in 2011 my mom, Rose, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  She suffered what they called mini-strokes that attributed to the disease, and she had to retire from a job she loved after 16 years. Alzheimer’s – at first – slowly took things from my mom; confidence, driving, painting, writing and more. The one thing she never let the disease take was her smile and her loving personality. My wonderful father took care of her for over four years until we had to put her into assisted care.  

She soon would lose her ability to walk, talk and eat.  Even though she didn’t communicate at the last stages of the disease, she still had that sparkle in her eye. We knew she was still in there and would continue to smile and want to be held.  In August of 2018, this devastating disease took my mom from us and our world changed.  I walk for her, I walk for everyone who lives with this disease, I walk for the care providers and I walk to educate others.  The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a way to show support for anyone impacted by Alzheimer’s and raise funding for additional advancements in finding a cure.  

Even if you haven’t been impacted by this disease, I encourage you to walk. Everyone should become educated because knowing how to talk with someone with Alzheimer’s is important and makes that person feel loved.   My team, “Rosie’s Riveters” will be walking in memory of my mom this year. Together, we will continue to share her story and educate others about Alzheimer’s.  

By: Renee Higgins

Why I Walk… Pamella’s Story

 When my Dad died of Alzheimer’s Disease the day before Valentine’s Day in 2001, we didn’t have a name for the disease that took away his identity. We knew that he stopped reading and doing crossword puzzles, started falling downstairs, started ordering “stuff” from the Publishers Clearinghouse mailings he used to throw away in disgust. He almost started a fire using the microwave, became belligerent instead of easy-going, was sure he saw and spoke with his parents and couldn’t be convinced otherwise with logic, had several fender benders before we took away his car keys and lost his ability to walk and to take care of himself. That is the SHORT list of changes that had occurred over a span of about ten years. We knew something was very wrong, but we didn’t know what. Once when he was randomly looking thru the many books in his house, I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he was looking for his mind. I was lucky and am grateful that he still knew who I was when he died.

When my Mom developed dementia ten years later, I was armed with lots of information courtesy of The Alzheimer’s Association. She was the one who didn’t know who I was two weeks before she died in 2013. She was worried about “her baby”, and she wasn’t talking about me. Thanks to my new information, I knew to go along with her reality instead of trying to change her mind. I reassured her that she had gotten an excellent babysitter and her baby was happily napping. On the way home in the car, I cried for the Mom whom I had lost. She never knew me again.

Dad with Alzheimer’s; Mom with dementia. Obviously I have a lot of skin in this game. It is devastating to watch a loved one disappear while they are still alive. My Dad was a research chemist with a masters degree. At the end he couldn’t even feed himself. My Mom was an R.N. who couldn’t find her way from her room to the dining room she had been going to three times a day for five years. I have seen my possible future and it is not pretty.

I learned about the Alzheimer’s Association the year that Dad died, and I have participated in the Macomb Walk to End Alzheimer’s every year since then. The 2019 Walk will be my 19th Walk. Each year I set a higher fundraising goal as I approach the age when my Dad was when he first started showing symptoms.

Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases impact us all. It could be a friend, a parent, a sibling. It could be you. Join me in raising money to find a cure and to learn more about this devastating disease. Together, we can do this.

Why I Walk… Tammy’s Story

By: Emily Wisner

Tammy Joseph has had three loved ones, her grandmother, father, and father-in-law, pass away from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, her mother is currently living with dementia and Parkinson’s. “All three of my loved ones eventually forgot who we were,” Tammy said. “Unless your family has had this happen to a loved one, it’s very difficult to understand what it’s like to have someone stop speaking to you and look through you with a blank stare because they can’t remember who you are.”

Tammy’s father was a farmer who raised horses and pigs, which was an integral part of his identity, but during his time with Alzheimer’s, he eventually couldn’t remember enough to talk about it with anyone. He would also go out and buy things for the farm even though he no longer lived there. “One day, he wrote a huge check to enter pigs into the county fair, but he didn’t have hogs to show,” Tammy said. “I tried to get him to give me the check so I could pretend to mail it, and he refused to give it to me. He actually pushed me out of the way so he could mail it. My Dad would have never treated me this way before Alzheimer’s.” 

After that incident, they had to have a family meeting and take away his credit card. “Dad got so upset and started yelling at us that he worked his entire life for his money, and we had no right to take it away,” Tammy said. The family also had to take his license and truck away because it was no longer safe for him to drive. “My parents lived in a small town, so when my Dad was driving down the wrong side of the road, the police brought him home and told us that he shouldn’t be driving,” she said. “He said it was his truck and no one was going to keep him from driving it. We had to sell it so it would be out of his view.”

Tammy has vivid memories of these conversations, which are still painful for her to talk about today. “Eventually, because of his temper, we had to make the decision to medicate him so he wouldn’t hurt Mom or any of us if we didn’t do what he wanted,” she said. “What many people don’t understand is how difficult it is when you have to make decisions about ways to keep your loved one safe.”

Another difficult part for Tammy and her family was seeing her father lose his outgoing personality. He stopped talking about the farm. He stopped emailing his friends. And eventually, after having to go on medication for his temper, he barely even talked to Tammy’s mother. “Mom became very lonely because Dad was always a ‘talker,’” Tammy said.

After seeing so many of her loved ones battle Alzheimer’s, Tammy knows that it isn’t a quick disease. “In most cases, your loved one will live many years after being diagnosed, and they will need a lot of care,” she said. “This is really affecting our health care system, so in that way, this disease is affecting everyone that pays taxes.” In addition, she said that “it’s rare that I find someone who hasn’t had someone in their immediate family or a friend diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Tammy’s mother is currently living with dementia, but the medication is helping for now. “I pray that she continues to know who we are,” Tammy said. “I walk in the Jacksonville Walk in hopes of raising money to fund research so that one day, my children won’t be sitting here writing their story of why they Walk to End Alzheimer’s.”