Walk to End Alzheimer’s Represents a Sea of Personal Stories

GAP-Net site Cleveland Clinic is hosting the Cleveland Walk to End Alzheimer’s on October 4, 2020.

Guest columnist Caroline James is the Business Development Specialist at Independence Village & StoryPoint Avon Lake and Retention Chair for the Cleveland Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

I’ve worked in senior care for seven years, often helping those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease live their best life possible.

I’ve advocated for quality patient care. I’ve met with families searching to find the best environment for their loved ones. And I have supported the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s as a way to help my residents.

Then, it happened to me. Alzheimer’s invaded my family. That insidious brain disease started rearing its ugly head in my grandmother, whom I affectionately call Yiayia.

That is why this year’s Cleveland Walk to End Alzheimer’s is so important to me. This year, I will walk with a different purpose. I am now among the more than 16 million Americans who provide unpaid care for people who have Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

People often call The Walk to End Alzheimer’s the world’s largest support group. If you look out at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, it is a sea of stories, a sea of people searching for a cure. One in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Because of COVID-19, there will be no large crowd this year. Instead, people — with their purple shirts on — will be walking individually and in small groups in neighborhoods all around Cuyahoga County.

Every walker has a story. We call it “why I walk.” If you stop and listen, you will hear the issues of the heart:

“My mom was a vibrant woman and today she is a shell of herself.”

“I fear for the day that my dad will no longer know my name.”

“I hate this disease. It stole my mother and my grandmother all too early.”

“I’m here because the Alzheimer’s Association helped me at one of the most difficult times in my life as a caregiver. Now, I want to raise money to make sure others are helped.”

My story starts with my love for my grandparents on both sides of my family. I have the birthdate of my “Pappa” John Young tattooed on my arm — 7/16/26 in Roman numerals.

We had a great relationship. I think because of that love, I went to Kent State University and ultimately majored in gerontology and nursing home administration.

My first job was as a manager of a memory care neighborhood. I first got involved in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s because I just felt that was my purpose. I got others involved at my senior living community, because we knew that those living with Alzheimer’s deserve as many people as possible speaking and advocating for them.

Family and friends joined me. Then, my Yiayia, my dad’s mother, was diagnosed in 2018 with Alzheimer’s. You see, Helen James was super healthy. She was a runner. But her cognitive impairment progressed quickly.

Because of my professional background, my family needed me to help guide family care decisions for her. Today, she lives in a memory care community in North Canton.

It’s difficult when you see your loved one affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, you think it is never going to impact someone you love. I am a witness that it can.

So, join me on Oct. 4 and participate in the Cleveland Walk to End Alzheimer’s, presented by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Go to http://act.alz.org/cleveland to register for the event.

Originally posted by Cleveland.com on September 6, 2020.

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