Nov 052015

I don’t have Alzheimer’s, and I’m not a caregiver for someone who does. I have no family members suffering from Alzheimer’s. In fact, my family has no history of Alzheimer’s disease.

My name is Wes, I’m 36 years old, and the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice for more than 10 years.wes1

“What?” “Why?”

It’s true; I’m not your “typical” advocate. But the truth is that this disease has made a lasting impression on me and in my life.

While working as a journalist in 2004, I was asked to write a story about Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know much about the disease. After completing some initial research, I felt the best way to tell the story was to interview people who were suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and care partners.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the interviews were heart-wrenching. At times, I cried. A grandmother was forgetting her granddaughter; a father his daughter. These wonderful and kind people were forgetting their most cherished memories and everything they once were as each day went by. The toll on their caregivers, I learned, was immense too.

Since then, the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice. Currently, I’m the marketing chair for the Miami Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and no matter where I’ve lived (Lafayette, St. Louis, Memphis and Miami), I’ve raised funds and have walked to end Alzheimer’s.

This year I had the opportunity to fly before I Walk. On July 30, as the 18th recipient of the JetBlue “Flying It Forward” ticket, I flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago to visit the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. My goal was to meet the leaders who are fighting this disease and take their best practices back to the Southeast Florida chapter.

I learned about the programs the Association offers, its research efforts, and Walk to End Alzheimer’s marketing and fundraising tips. I also visited the National Contact Center, where the 24/7 free, helpline is answered.  Did you know the National Contact Center handles an average of 3,750 calls a week?! I learned a lot during my visit and I will cherish the trip for the rest of my life.

wes2Here are a few of the things I learned:

  1. Wear your Walk shirt – Walk to End Alzheimer’s shirts are not just for Walks. Wear them throughout the year, especially in high-traffic areas such as airports, sporting events and shopping malls. People will approach you and ask about your involvement and the cause and may even share their personal stories.
  2. Memorize the 24/7 Helpline – If someone approaches you with interest in or needs help from the Alzheimer’s Association, offer the 800.272.3900 24/7 Helpline! You can also print business cards with the helpline info on it so you can easily hand it out.
  3. Tell your story – Storytelling allows you to make a connection with people. Share your story to increase your Walk fundraising and raise awareness of this disease. My personal fundraising spiked when WGN TV featured my trip after I had asked people to share my story through their social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
  4. Get creative – I have friends who always want me to join Facebook even though I’ve opposed it for years. But then I saw an opportunity: I told them that if I raised $10,000 to end Alzheimer’s, I would join, and many of them have donated!

Just as Alzheimer’s has made a lasting impression on me, I hope to make a lasting impression by continuing to join Walk every year. It’s important to note that JetBlue did not select me for the program that resulted in my visit to the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. Amy, the past recipient of the “Flying It Forward” ticket, chose me because she has two uncles who are suffering from Alzheimer’s.

So when I walk in Miami in November, I’m now Walking for them too.

About the Author: Wes Milligan is a communications advisor at FedEx Express, Latin America & Caribbean Division, where he is responsible for internal and external communications. Wes lives and works in Miami. You can visit his Walk page here.

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  4 Responses to “A Lasting Impression”

  1. Thank you, thank you. If there were more like you who become involved in the walks, we are taking another step in the fight for a cure. I gave a short speech at our September walk in Buffalo, New York indicating how appreciative I was for all the help the Alzheimer'' Organization was to me and my husband who suffered from Frontal temporal Dementia.

  2. You have no idea what it means to read this article. Unlike you I have spent most of the last 28 years being a caregiver and wonder what my chances of getting the disease is. Exhaustion cannot define what a caregiver goes through or the physical pain of the loved one. I was one of my grandmother's caregivers when I was a teenager. I miss out on a lot of "things" I used to think were important. I wish there had been more research back then. My grandmother lived with us for 16 years. After being married for 12 years, my Father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's he lost his battle in October 2005. His was not hereditary. It was caused from head trauma from either playing football (at Virginia Tech or the Washington Redskins) but probably from serving our country as and Air Force Pilot. Although there was some distance my husband and I helped as much as we could with two small sons. During his fight I began to research Alzheimer's in more depth. By the end of 2005, I began to notice little things with my mom. Although i am not an expert I knew the signs. As I struggled to try to talk to mom the more agitated she got. She didn't want to admit she knew. I went to my family and expressed my concerns and told them the about what I knew from my research. No one wanted to listen. I live in a small town on 80 acres. We live next door to my parents home. I had left my 70 hour a week job to stay home with my sons. What I wasn't planning to raise my son's and have them see the day by day digression of their grandmother, as I did. It is not a disease where the symptoms are the same. No one's experience is the same. It isn't a disease you can take notes and compare with others. What works for one patient will not work for another. My mom suffered through all 7 stages of Alzheimer's. She would beg me to make it stop. The guilt and hopelessness consumes you. By the time the rest of the family admitted something was wrong she had already gone through the stages that medicine would help to slow the disease. Mom lost her battle May 29, 2015. Until the end we were able to keep her wishes. My wish is that more people like you, Mr. Milligan could be more informed and educated about Alzheimer's. As for me and my family, my husband and I have already discussed our wishes with our sons. My sons had to grow up a little too soon. My husband and two sons have been my rock the last ten years. Both my sons have done extensive research on the disease. My oldest son applied his research to the effects of Alzheimer's caused by concussions from playing sports. He received his degree in applied physiology in Sports Medicine. My youngest is studying Kinesiology as well. For me, I am at a loss of what to do. My time has been consumed the last 36 years of my life caring for someone with this fatal disease. Born in Coral Gables raised in Texas I will continue to educate myself and others on the importance of more research for Alzheimer's. Thank you for bringing awareness to #ENDALZ.

  3. This is an incredible story! The world needs more people like you because so many don’t become advocates until their lives are directly affected. I personally am a big fan of wearing your awareness shirts, not just for this disease, on regular basis. Thank you so much for all your efforts to such an incredible cause!

  4. As a caregiver to my dear husband who is in the middle stages of this disease, I say thank you! I dream about a world in which there is no Alzheimer's Disease. People like you are going to make that dream come true.

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