When I was 20 years old, I went to visit my great grandmother who was in a nursing-care facility because she suffered from Alzheimer’s. A godly woman, Grandma Lambert was my champion in childhood. She read to me when I was young, always played “pick which hand” with me—inevitably revealing treats in both—sung with me, danced with me, and laughed with me. She was pure sunshine, head to toe, from her moo-moo style dresses to her velcroed tennis shoes to her boxy leather white purses, all decked out with a mega-watt smile. Sundays revolved around her cooking the family dinner after church service—for which she was a devout attendant her entire life.
As we entered her room—a home with constant nurse care and the smell of iodine rather than the aroma of homemade biscuits and fried chicken—Mom said, “Grandma, Shea’s here to see you. Remember Shea?”
“Ashamed?!” she yelled back in a scowl, confused by the question. “I’m not goddamned ashamed of anything!”
Imagine the shock of not seeing or hearing my usually meek, smiling grandlady—the woman who made a party out of every family vacation and get-together.
And so was my very first encounter with Alzheimer’s. Thank goodness a strong sense of humor runs rampant in my family. Mom and I were able to cackle a little under our collective breaths from hearing Grandma curse—much less use the one word she’d never in a million years utter had she been cognizant or “in her right mind.”
My lovely grandmother passed away less than a year later. Her personality had shifted because of the disease. She often reacted unknowingly to sensations that had never occurred to her before: forgetting names of people closest to her; having trouble problem-solving; not being able to remember important locations, like her home address, or dates, like her anniversary or birthday; losing track of time and seasons; misjudging situations and conversations without being able to follow and participate in them; misplacing items; and generally walking around in a state of confusion, which often spawned anxiety and aggression.
Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans annually. Thanks to 600 walks and thousands upon thousands of participants every year, more than $67 million is raised to help work toward a cure. In fact, they raise more money for research of the disease aside from the US and Chinese governments.
“The money [raised from the Walk to End Alzheimer’s] is used in a variety of ways,” according to manager of special events, Jennifer Briand. “We provide resources about the deal, support groups, educational programs, a 24/7 HelpLine (1-800-272-3900), and a robust website to help people find support in their area.”
Funding also is used toward their annual international conference to showcase the findings from research conducted. “Researchers from all over the world come together,” Briand notes. “The most important fact about this disease is that it cannot be prevented, slowed down or cured at this point. Caregivers spend hundreds of thousands of hours annually, taking care of their loved ones with this disease. The walks are critical to raise as much money as possible, to fund research and clinical trials.”
In Wilmington the 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place on Nov. 5 around Wrightsville Beach’s Harbor Island. Registration begins at 8 a.m., with a ceremony following at 9 a.m. and the walk at 9:30 a.m. As of press time, 275 people are scheduled to participate; however, they’re registering more folks daily and through the day of the event.
“Our goal in Wilmington is to exceed $89,000,” Briand says. “We encourage early registration.” The event will include entertainment and refreshments. For those who can’t walk, donors are welcomed to support a participant or a team