What started as a social call blossomed into a passion for Michelle Carlson. Her friend, Mary Wasik, invited her to an educational event with the Alzheimer’s Association at her law firm. There, Michelle met other women impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She found a meaningful community, helpful resources and hope for a future without the disease. She is now an Illinois Chapter Board Member, Chair of Illinois Women Conquer ALZ (IWCA) and more committed than ever to the fight against Alzheimer’s.
Michelle’s mother has been living with dementia for ten years. “Before that, she was extremely bright,” Michelle shares. “She had a chemistry/math degree and was a chemist prior to having four children…She has always been such an amazing and fun mom.”
Today, Michelle’s brother and sister-in-law live with her mother and handle the day-to-day caregiving in Texas while Michelle stays connected through phone calls and long visits. “I know it has been a long road for my brother, sister-in-law and their family,” says Michelle. “They have been amazing…I am convinced that [their caregiving] is why she is still alive.”
Michelle’s mother has always prioritized family. “I wish I could have had more time with her as she was, but I’m glad that I have time with her today,” shares Michelle. “I take care of her 2-3 weeks a year and really do appreciate that time…In the beginning of her disease, she would forget things…She still repeats herself a lot and we mostly assure her that she is okay, or we go along with her unique thoughts.
“We need to treat all those diagnosed with respect; their condition is not their fault. There are times when my mom says things that are quite funny and often catch us off guard. It’s important to share the laughter together too!”
Michelle is assisted and comforted by what she has learned through the Alzheimer’s Association. The website alz.org has a wealth of resources and education, and the 24/7 Helpline is available anytime, free of charge at 800.272.3900. “There are many things I have learned over time from my involvement in the Association, such as education on the disease, the science, the research trends,” says Michelle. “We have had speakers on all the issues from medical, legal, types of care, and the importance of exercise and nutrition. I have met doctors that treat the disease and listened to how they approach patients.
“This disease has a major impact on women, and especially Black and Hispanic women. Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women and they are also more frequently the caregivers. If you have a job, it takes a bigger toll on the family’s source of income. It is stressful to care for a loved one with the disease. For those who don’t have a loved one living with the disease, it is very common to know someone who does. We hope that one day there will be better treatments and a way to delay the onset of the worst aspects of the disease. Ultimately, we want to find a cure.”
After her initial encounter with IWCA, Michelle continued to deepen her involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association. She attended IWCA’s signature Power of Purple garden party event, which led to her joining the group’s Steering Committee. She has hosted a table at Reason to Hope, participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and joined the Illinois Chapter Board of Directors. “I would like to try to make a difference in as many ways as I can,” shares Michelle.
The greatest part of her work, though, is connecting with people who know what she’s going through. “I love the learning, the stories, the sharing and the amazing group of women and staff that I have met…Learning that you are not alone in dealing with the disease is cathartic.
“We need to slow the pace of the disease and ultimately find a cure. When you get involved, it gives you a chance to make a difference. Working together gives us an opportunity to make a bigger difference.
“I can’t be with my mom every day. This is my way of trying to have a positive impact. I hope to continue to build awareness, refer those who need assistance to the Alzheimer’s Association, listen and share more about how the association and our members can help others dealing with the disease.”
Join Michelle and a passionate community of women advocating, educating and fundraising on behalf of Illinois families facing Alzheimer’s. Sign up for IWCA, and mark your calendars for their signature event Power of Purple on Sunday, June 12.