WGN-TV Ray Cortopassi Journey of Love and Memories Navigating Alzheimer’s with Family

As long as I can remember, my life has been intertwined with stories. From listening to them, watching them unfold, to finally becoming a storyteller myself, my journey has been a tapestry of experiences. I began my career as a freelance reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper in 1990, post-college, eventually finding my way to the esteemed City News Bureau of Chicago and later into television reporting and anchoring roles across various cities.

My passion for storytelling and connecting with people led me through the highs and lows of life, but the true test came when my mom succumbed to complications from breast cancer. In the face of loss, my father, Ted, became an integral part of my life. We invited him to live with us, and as time unfolded, it became clear that he needed more support due to a diagnosis of dementia. His journey with the disease was marked by withdrawn behavior, persistent fatigue, and alarming mini-strokes that demanded immediate medical attention.

Amidst the challenges, I found solace and strength in the Alzheimer’s Association. This community of compassionate individuals united by a common goal of providing the best care for their loved ones became a beacon of support. I readily accepted the opportunity to be an emcee at the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s celebration, moved by the impact the disease had on patients and their families. The experience was not only eye-opening but also deeply inspiring.

Fast forward to today, and my personal connection with Alzheimer’s has taken on a new dimension. My wife Leslie’s mother, Sarah, at 84 (though she enjoys keeping her age a delightful secret), is navigating through stage four dementia. Acute short-term memory loss and familiar traits associated with Alzheimer’s mark her journey. Despite the challenges, her loving spark remains intact, even if the ability to form new memories has slipped away.

My mission now is clear – to shower Sarah with the love and care she has always bestowed upon her family. It’s a journey filled with both heartache and moments of profound connection. Through it all, the Alzheimer’s Association continues to be a pillar of support, backed by the dedication of numerous organizations and companies committed to funding their mission.

As I traverse this path, I am grateful for the resources and research focused on finding a cure. Each step, each story shared, becomes a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love in the face of adversity. Together, we press on, weaving a narrative of hope and determination in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Join Ray Cortopassi as he emcee the 2024 Power of Purple: A Reason to Hope Luncheon, on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. at the FOUR SEASONS HOTEL CHICAGO, located at 120 E Delaware Street, Chicago, IL 60611. Click here for details

A Journey of Love, Loss, and Hope: Navigating Retirement, Family, and Alzheimer’s

Deb, a retired special education teacher shares her story on how Alzheimer’s has impacted her and her family’s life.

The past few years have been challenging due to the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a glimmer of joy entered my life when I finally reunited with three of my four grandchildren after almost four years. The joy of witnessing their growth and change made it one of the best days of my life. Despite my husband’s health problems, we are hopeful about resuming our travels soon.

My journey with Alzheimer’s began when my mother, Jerlean Moore, started showing symptoms at the age of 75. Confused and desperate for guidance, I sought medical advice but received a disheartening prognosis of only five years. Determined to keep my mother at home, I turned to the Alzheimer’s Association, which provided invaluable resources for in-home care.

Balancing caregiving with my job and family support, we managed to keep my mother at home until she peacefully passed away at the age of 93 in 2008. Inspired by her memory, I joined the Walk To End Alzheimer’s, involving my school community in creative fundraising efforts.

Alzheimer’s is not just a disease affecting the elderly; it impacts entire families and caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association offered crucial support and information to navigate the challenges of caregiving. It’s essential for society, including businesses, to join the fight against this cruel disease.

My daughter, Dawn, played a pivotal role in caring for her grandmother and continues to contribute by participating in the Walk and fundraising at her workplace. Reflecting on my mother’s journey, I’ve learned to find humor in the midst of overwhelming moments, thanks to the support of individuals like Amber at the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter.  Family members also worked together to support my mother during her illness with donations and participation in the Walk.

Sharing my story is a plea for understanding, compassion, and collective action. Whether through time, money, or advocacy, everyone can play a part in the fight against Alzheimer’s, bringing hope to those facing similar challenges.

The Unexpected Crisis – Preparing for the Financial Impact of Alzheimer’s

During Financial Wellness Month this January, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging individuals and families to take stock making financial plans that will create some security in preparing for an unexpected crisis of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

One in nine Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease – that’s more than 6 million Americans across the country and 233,000 here in . The disease not only takes a tremendous physical toll on diagnosed individuals, but the costs associated with the disease can be overwhelming and put a huge economical strain on families. Disease-related costs can jeopardize a family’s financial security, and many families and caregivers make enormous personal and financial sacrifices.

The 2023 Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report found:

●      In 2022, the lifetime cost of care for a person living with dementia was $392,874.

●      In 2021, dementia caregivers bore nearly twice the average out-of-pocket costs of non-dementia caregivers ($12,388 versus $6,667).

●      Nearly half (48 percent) of care contributors must cut back on their own expenses – including basic necessities like food, transportation and medical care – to afford dementia-related care, while others must draw from their own savings or retirement funds.

●      Nearly two out of three people incorrectly believe that Medicare helps pay for nursing home care, or are unsure whether it does.

To help families navigate these and other financial challenges, the Alzheimer’s Association recently launched a free online education program, “Managing Money: A Caregiver’s Guide to Finances.” Tips from the program include:

●      Plan early — There are many benefits of planning early when it comes to your finances – both for the caregiver and the person with the disease.

●      Start a positive discussion about finances — Bring in trusted family members or close friends for a discussion about what the person with the disease wants for the future.

●      Avoid financial abuse and fraud — Individuals living with dementia have a greater risk of becoming victims and may struggle with making good financial decisions.

●      Organize your finances — Conduct an inventory of your financial resources (savings, insurance, retirement benefits, government assistance, VA benefits, etc.). A financial planner or elder care attorney can help.

●      Create a backup plan — Designate a trusted back-up agent for the person’s power of attorney and consider designating responsibilities to more than one person.

“Many caregivers experience financial problems because they have to reduce their hours or take time off work,” said Delia Jervier, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association, Illinois Chapter. “As the disease progresses, caregivers will need to pay for services or support for the person living with Alzheimer’s. Financial literacy is especially important for caregivers, because it provides them with the knowledge and skills needed to better support themselves and others.”

For more information on financial planning, visit: Plan for Your Financial Future or alz.org

Alzheimer’s Association offers tips for discussing cognitive concerns with your doctor as part of your New Year’s Resolution

The Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter encourage individuals to make a new year’s resolution to speak with their health care provider regarding cognitive concerns. Today, there are more than 6 million people 65 and older who are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, with 233,000 in Illinois.

The emphasis on early detection underscores the proactive approach towards cognitive health. By likening routine health check-ups like blood pressure, cholesterol, and skin checks. Cognitive health as an integral part of an individual’s overall wellness routine.

The call for everyone, even those not currently experiencing memory problems, to speak with their medical provider if there are any concerns. It emphasizes the preventative aspect of healthcare, encouraging individuals to address potential issues before they become more serious. The comparison to other facets of health further reinforces the idea that cognitive health should be treated with the same level of importance as other aspects of physical well-being.

The phrase “check-up from the neck up” is not only catchy but also effectively communicates the significance of cognitive health. It simplifies a potentially sensitive topic and encourages individuals to take action in a positive and memorable way.

Early detection and diagnosis of these conditions offers the best opportunity for care management and treatment. It also provides diagnosed individuals and their caregivers more time to plan for the future, adopt lifestyle changes that may help slow disease progression, participate in clinical trials and to live with higher quality of life, for as long as possible. Early detection and diagnosis are the first steps towards creating a plan of action.

According to the 2023 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, too often individuals with memory concerns are not discussing the issue with their doctor — only 4 in 10 would talk to their doctor right away. Individuals hesitate because they believe their experiences are related to normal aging, rather than a potential diagnosable medical condition. Yet, 7 in 10 would want to know early if they have Alzheimer’s disease if it could allow for earlier treatment.

“While discussing cognitive concerns with your health care provider can be challenging, it’s really important,” said Delia Jervier, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association, Illinois Chapter. “Having these conversations with a doctor can help facilitate early detection and diagnosis, offering individuals and families important benefits, not only treatments, but emotional and social benefits, access to clinical trials and more time to plan the future. It is also important to note that some forms of cognitive decline are treatable.”

Find the right doctor. In most cases, the first point of contact for concerns about memory and thinking is with your primary care physician. Ask your physician how comfortable they are identifying and diagnosing cognitive problems and whether there are circumstances in which he or she would refer to a specialist. Most often, your physician will perform an initial assessment, and if cognitive decline is detected, order more advanced testing or refer you to a specialist for a more definitive diagnosis. If your doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, seek a second opinion.

Be prepared. Come to your visit with a list of any changes in your health, including your mood, memory and behaviors. Include a list of past and current medical problems, current prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, including vitamins or supplements. Most importantly, be sure to have your list of questions and be prepared to answer the doctor’s questions openly and honestly.

Get educated. When speaking to the doctor, be sure to ask what tests will be performed, what the tests involve, how long each test takes and when the results will be available. The Alzheimer’s Association offers an interactive tour of what to expect when being evaluated for memory and thinking problems on its website.