At first your family member or friend starts to forget conversations you had the day before or even 20 minutes ago. Then he or she isn’t quite sure where the grocery store is in town. Fast forward a few years, the loved one no longer remembers who you are, can’t take care of her self and eventually passes on.
Alzheimer’s, for better or worse, is a slow killer that often inflicts more pain and sorrow on the patient’s family members and friends. But there is plenty of hope, hope for more awareness and more funds to research this complex disease that has only just begun to envelop the baby boomer generation.
A light of hope can be found in Karen Klassen, of McKinney, along with about 15 others, who decided to organize the first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in McKinney, slated for Saturday, Sept. 29. The purpose is to raise awareness and break down the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s while raising money for much needed research. As of this writing, over 100 people have signed up to walk and have raised over $20,000.
Klassen’s mother, now 81, has had Alzheimer’s for about 10 years and is her primary caregiver. “It is a privilege for me to care for my parents,” said Klassen. “There are good days and bad days, but I take pride in what I do.”
It upsets Klassen when others dismiss her mother as if she’s not really here. “She may not be able to communicate as well anymore, but she is still here sitting in her chair,” said Klassen. “She still has compassion to give.”
Klassen said there is a lot of fear out there. Fear of catching Alzheimer’s, fear of being alone as a caregiver, fear of the financial burden, but she wanted to launch this walk to raise awareness and break down some of the fear and misconceptions. “If you don’t know someone with Alzheimer’s today, you soon will,” said Klassen. “This walk is about letting people know that resources are available and that you don’t have to do this alone.”
One of Klassen’s closest friends, Diana Morrow Smith, is helping with the walk in honor of her mother, now 80, who has been living with Alzheimer’s for the last five years. Like Klassen’s mother, she may not be able to do the things she used to do but is still a powerful nurturer. Smith said, “She will do anything for anybody. Even today, she is loving and kind to anyone who comes to visit her.”
Sherri Murphy of McKinney is also closely involved in the walk in support of her mother-in-law, Joan. The Murphy family first noticed a change in her behavior when she was in her 60s about ten years ago. “Joan came over for Christmas one year and we had a moving Santa Claus in the house,” explained Murphy. “She didn’t say anything about the Santa while she was here but when she got home, she called us very angry about the Santa, saying it was hers and questioning why we had it. Two hours later she called us again in tears and apologized for the outburst.”
There are over 15 million Americans who serve as caregivers. Yes, that’s 15 million! Klassen is her mother’s primary caregiver while Smith’s father watches over her mother on a daily basis. For Murphy, it’s her brother-in-law that has assumed the role for their family. He has had to put locks on most of the doors to keep his mom from wondering out in the neighborhood, which has happened before.
Despite the emotional and financial tolls Alzheimer’s takes on families, these three ladies are optimistic and full of hope. Murphy said that even though it's sad that more and more families are affected each year, the fact that they are not alone and have a better understanding of the disease is the silver lining that will lead to a cure.
“There is so much help out there, so much support,” said Klassen. “When you see the group at the walk, it feels so good to know there are others who are going through the same thing.”
Smith said, “We are the one of the most positive families you’ll ever meet. We don’t get depressed. It’s a great day when mom smiles and knows us for a brief moment.”
It’s time to Walk To End Alzheimer’s, McKinney! Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. on Sat., Sept. 29. The opening ceremony is at 8 a.m. with the walk starting at 8:30 a.m. on the Spoons corner of McKinney’s downtown square. Spoons will serve FREE pancakes to walkers and the general public to raise further awareness. Donations will be accepted.
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