Corporate Sponsor ComEd, elect Alzheimer’s Association as Cause of the Year for Walk to End Alzheimer’s 2023

Why I Walk: Shared by Mark Baranek

Mark Baranek is Vice President of Projects & Contracts and Interim Senior Vice President of Technical Services at ComEd. In 2023, Mark is also serving as the executive sponsor for the ComEd Cause of the Year program, benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.

ComEd’s Cause of the Year is an annual program where ComEd employees vote for a cause to focus their giving efforts on for the year. In 2023, ComEd employees selected the Alzheimer’s Association—pledging to contribute a $50,000 corporate conation and more than $50,000 in company-wide fundraising for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. As of October 2023, ComEd has raised more than $108,000 for the cause.

On a brisk Saturday morning in October, my family and I bundled up and headed to Chicago. When we arrived to the Chicago Walk to End Alzheimer’s event, we were greeted with an excited crowed decked out in bright colors to support the cause.

I know that the walks are a great way to raise money and awareness around Alzheimer’s and dementia, but they are also an incredible opportunity to build community and collaborate with others who share a similar goal of finding ways to mitigate and prevent Alzheimer’s in the future. The crowd in Chicago was certainly proof of that.

Mark holding a Purple flower during Walk to End ALZ 2023 Flower Ceremony in Chicago.

At the walk, I was able to share how Alzheimer’s has impacted my family. My father struggled with Alzheimer’s in the last few years of his life, and it was a very difficult time for everyone involved. It’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s effects people in their entirety—their mind, their personality and their physical body. Not only was it sad to see my father change and struggle during that period, it was also difficult to see the impact it had on my mother who was his primary caregiver.

As I walked in support of a cure with my family, friends, coworkers and fellow Chicagoans, I thought of my father—but I also thought of the challenges that Alzheimer’s can present to the families navigating this difficult disease. Something people don’t often consider, is that Alzheimer’s is not a disease that only impacts the elderly. There are many individuals living with Alzheimer’s who have young families, which can make the journey much more difficult for those involved.

The Chicago walk was also proof that Alzheimer’s impacts more than just the individual. The loss associated with Alzheimer’s has a much wider reach—extending to the immediate family, friends and greater community. It is quite painful to watch someone no longer have the ability to share their stories and experiences with the people most important to them.

I am grateful that the Alzheimer’s Association lives up to it’s mission of helping end Alzheimer’s. I look forward to the day when these walks are filled with white flowers.  

Navigating Alzheimer’s: Lessons from Cheryl’s Journey

Shared by David Myers:

When someone receives the diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer’s, they refer to it as their journey. Our Alzheimer’s journey started in July 2012 when my wife Cheryl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 47. Cheryl was having difficulty finding locations while driving, and when simple tasks at work became too hard for her, we knew something serious was going on.

After two years of looking for an answer, we finally received the diagnosis that changed our lives. Cheryl and I enjoyed taking vacations, and one of our favorite spots was the Smokey Mountains.

“The journey is the Destination” was a quote that was on one of Cheryl’s t-shirts she got when we were in the Smokies one year, and the saying stuck way before our ALZ journey and is still a saying we use today. She loved walking the many trails in the Smokies, and when she found a guidebook called Scavenger Hikes of the Smokies, her goal was to hit all 20 hikes.

One of those hikes took us on an 8-mile adventure, where we found a locomotive that had rolled off the mountain and was left there. The guidebook gave us the opportunity to see things we would have missed on our trips to Gatlinburg, Tn. But the guidebooks only gave us the information the author had knowledge of.

We realized even with a guidebook, there were things that were not covered that could happen. What we realized was when on a journey, you just need to go with the flow and find the joy.

This Alz Journey is not unlike those adventures we enjoyed back in the Smokies. In order to make sure our loved one is safe and happy on THIS journey; you need to have the right equipment. That equipment, believe it or not, is similar to the equipment you use when you are hiking.

Wearing a hat:

You will wear many hats during this journey.

  • Chef
  • Housekeeper
  • Personal secretary
  • Nurse
  • Attorney
  • Chauffeur
  • Friend
  • And yes, even guide

Using the Guide/GPS:

The Guide is responsible to make sure you know where you are going, but sometimes, the GPS can help show where you have been as this can be just as important at times. The GPS can document the progression of the journey, so we know exactly where we are and can provide the documentation needed to help the doctors provide the best care for our loved one. The guide can provide topics to read about so you are prepared for “What’s Next.”

The Backpack can be both good and bad:

Every good guide has a backpack to keep all of the items needed for the journey. Everything goes into the backpack, just remember to leave out the burdens, fear, worry, anxiety, and all things unknown and out of your control that you might find yourself carrying as well. You never really know how long this journey will take you. Your concerns need to be shared with others to help you on your journey.

The walking stick is my favorite item:

The walking stick comes in many shapes and sizes. It is used to move objects out of the way. It is used to help us keep our balance. And it is used to lean on when we are tired. The reason the walking stick is my favorite is not just because it looks cool, but because it serves a great purpose.

In 2019, my wife Cheryl completed her Alzheimer’s journey, and that is when I realized that this journey I had been on didn’t have to stop. I may have felt like stopping, however, there is so much that I had learned over her 7-year journey that it just didn’t seem right to quit when I was still on my own journey.

Volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association is my therapy. It gives me the opportunity to talk about the love of my life, Cheryl. It also gives me the opportunity to share my story and the tools to navigate to the end and allows me to be the walking stick for others who are on this journey.

Volunteering has been one of the most important things I think I can do for my community.

Enduring Love: Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Caregiver, Helene Shapiro, shares her story for caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is marked by both highs and lows, but it’s also an opportunity to showcase love, resilience, and the strength of family bonds. As we navigate this path, we cherish the moments that remain, practice patience, and honor the essence of the person they once were. In the end, what matters most is the love and care we provide. While Alzheimer’s may steal memories, it cannot erase the enduring legacy of love.

What is the best thing about being a caregiver?

Not much of being a caregiver is easy or fun. This disease takes so much away from Steve and I. But the moments when he tries to hug me and tells me I am beautiful are pretty special. One day, I came in and gave him a kiss hello. I soon realized he didn’t know who I was, and I asked him if he kissed anyone, and he said – no – only the cute one.

What are some things you wished you had known before beginning your caregiver journey? 

Everything! Early onset has many unique challenges. The medical, psychological, legal, financial and emotional issues can be overwhelming. And there isn’t a lot out there to help.  

What are the things you do best as a caregiver?

 I am really resourceful. I’m willing to make lots of calls and absorb all the information that people are willing to share. I’m a pretty organized, I figure out a problem and I attack it from all sides to find the best solution. And at this point, I’m not afraid or ashamed to ask for a favor or help. We are all going to be in a difficult position and I have found that people really want to help.

What are the biggest challenges of being a caregiver? 

The change in your loved one – is devastating. Steve is the funniest, sweetest kindest man I know. The disease took so much of that away. I only get flickers of him now. On a more basic level, you don’t know what you don’t know or what you will need until it smacks you in the face, and then you have to react quickly.  

How do you manage the stress that comes with being a caregiver? 

McDonalds French fries on the way home from a bad visit 😊. Even after more than seven years, I’m not sure what is my best way to handle the stress.  I’m not ashamed to say that a little anti-depressants and a therapist help me find my center. I have the absolute best friends and family, who are there at any time to talk. And I have Stanley to hug and walk, the best golden retriever you could ever want.

What valuable lessons have you learned as a caregiver that you would share with other caregivers?

#1- go easy on yourself. Things will go wrong, try not to beat yourself up. There is no way you can ever anticipate what is going to happen to you and your family. I am my hardest judge and my friends remind me that I am doing my best and that has to be enough.

#2- Find your people and let them help you. You can’t do this alone; it is just too much. People want to help, they feel as helpless to this disease as you do, so helping makes them feel better.

#3- you can’t figure this disease out and how it will affect your loved one. Stop trying to anticipate what is next, it rarely works, you have to “go with the flow”. I am a serious planner, timelines, lists etc. It just doesn’t work and accepting that was huge for me. 💙 #EndAlzheimers #FamilyCaregiving 

A Journey of Love and Care: Caring for Mom with Alzheimer’s

Shared by Meredith McKinley:

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is a journey filled with unexpected twists, challenges, and profound moments of love and resilience. My family’s journey with Alzheimer’s began around a decade ago when we noticed the subtle signs of dementia in our beloved mother. It was a daunting realization, but as a family, we united to face this new chapter of life together.

With siblings scattered across different cities, the challenge of long-distance caregiving emerged. Despite the physical separation, we remained deeply involved in our mother’s care. Our research led us to Lenbrook Atlanta, a graduated care facility, which provided a supportive environment that evolved with her changing needs. It was a crucial decision, offering her a sense of security as her Alzheimer’s progressed.

As the disease advanced, our mother’s care requirements grew, and we had to adapt accordingly. Caregivers like Tina played a crucial role in ensuring her comfort and well-being. And when she faced a respiratory infection last December, we explored the Memory Care unit at Lenbrook, providing a smaller, more secure environment with specialized care led by Shonda and her experienced team.

Distance was a significant challenge, but we overcame it through frequent communication with the care team and regular visits and calls. Postcards and cards brightened her days and kept us connected.

The emotional toll of witnessing our mother’s decline was a heavy burden to bear, but we found solace in the small, beautiful moments and the belief that she still felt our love. Patience and a strong support network, including our loving spouses and understanding siblings, were indispensable.

One vital aspect of Alzheimer’s caregiving was remembering who our mother was before the disease. Sharing her life story with her caregivers helped them understand the person they were caring for, fostering a more personal and compassionate connection.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is a profound experience, and it’s not without its highs and lows. Through it all, we hold onto precious moments, practice patience, and cherish the essence of the person our mother once was. In the end, it’s the love and care that matter most, reminding us that our mother’s legacy lives on in our hearts and actions. Alzheimer’s may change a person, but it doesn’t diminish the love and bonds that hold families together.