Nov 202015

There is a day for giving thanks, and now there is a day dedicated to giving back. December 1 marks the fourth year of Giving Tuesday, a global day of charitable giving. Thanks to our generous donor, Vicky Patel, your donation on Giving Tuesday can go twice as far. She’s agreed to give the Association $1 million if we can raise the same amount by December 31.

Giving Tuesday is fueled by the power of social media and by people just like you. Donate in the spirit of giving this season and share why you give with the hashtags #ENDALZ and #GivingTuesday. Join this global movement and support the fight to end Alzheimer’s by sharing your photos on Twitter and Instagram to see them featured here in this blog!

“We give to the Alzheimer’s Association so that future children will never have to know how to pronounce Alzheimer’s.”— Tom Rotz
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association because of the millions of family caregivers who provide care every day. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects the entire family. I give because I care about caregivers and the ones they love.”— Fawn Cothran
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association because I have seen, lived and experienced the devastation that Alzheimer’s can cause. No one can put an end to this disease alone, but together, we can make a difference. By advocating and raising funds, there is hope for the future.”— Mary Fus
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association to honor my mom Anne, who died from Alzheimer’s, and to make sure others do not have to go through what we did as a family.”— Melissa Shilliday
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association because my dad was diagnosed in 2013. I want to support our heroes — caregivers, family members and those living with Alzheimer’s. I love you, dad!”— Victor Guzman
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association because of my Papa Charlie who has Alzheimer’s. I raise money to help find a cure so other kids don’t have to see their Papa sick like mine. Good things will come if you put your heart to it.”— Maya Leachman
“I give to the Alzheimer’s Association because I want to do my part to protect the memories we build every day. Losing my grandma to Alzheimer’s opened my eyes to the heartbreaking cognitive, emotional, and physical impact of the disease. My hope is that each dollar raised is a step closer to a cure.”— Meg Fertig

Nov 182015

Laura HanniganIt’s a lot easier to say change isn’t easy than it is to experience change yourself.  I recently found this out firsthand when I said goodbye to friends, residents and coworkers at Brookdale Hillsborough, where I served as the Clare Bridge program manager for two years. In becoming the new executive director at Brookdale Hamilton, I wouldn’t be far away geographically, but away from the “family” I had grown to love.

Clare Bridge is Brookdale’s individualized and person-centered program designed to meet the specific needs of those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. We celebrated many daily moments of success at Hillsborough, including the success of our Hillsborough Walk Team’s efforts and fundraisers.

Brookdale Hillsborough WalkOver the past three years, the Hillsborough Walk Team picked up momentum and grew from raising $600 the first year, $1,800 the next year, to $6,000 with matching gifts in 2014.

Brookdale working TogetherWalk to End Alzheimer’s is an energizing event that we all look forward to all year long. It was a chilly day this year, but our hearts were warmed by the incredible crowds and inspirational speeches, as people proudly carried team banners. We were all so honored to be part of this impressive turnout supporting the Alzheimer’s Association. Words cannot express the warm feeling we all shared and carried home in our hearts from hearing the speeches, receiving the flowers, and for sharing such a special day with so many people.

After this year’s Walk, we asked residents, their families and each other for additional fundraising ideas. Boy, did we get some good ones! Our tireless team entertained guests, prepared and served great food, decorated the building and made these events a wonderful time for all. A silent auction was our biggest hit.

Brookdale Taking in the Autction Bids

The silent auction really was a family affair.  Residents, their families and Brookdale associates donated all types of items to be auctioned off.  From hand knitted afghans to new appliances and Waterford crystal, the spirit of giving filled the community.  It was lots of fun and, at times, seriously competitive.  Our assisted living resident Roz and a Clare Bridge resident’s family helped man the silent auction, challenging others to outbid each other, and thus encouraging families to donate more to this great cause.

Brookdale Families Enjoying Silent Auction

Between our Walk and our other fundraising events, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride in the Brookdale Hillsborough family. I, like so many others, have had family members who have had Alzheimer’s. I was touched by my grandmother’s experience and by the rough time my fun-loving uncle had with the disease.  When I play a tiny part in helping someone live at the highest level they can, I am so touched by the moment, and know I’m getting far more than I give.

Laura Hannigan and her Brookdale team of community associates, residents and resident families exceeded their wildest fundraising dreams for the 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Nov 102015

When I was in graduate school, I lived in an apartment with two roommates, and the three of us rotated the household responsibilities of cleaning and cooking. During a week when it was his turn to cook, my one roommate told us about a free dinner on campus. At the time, I was seeing a girl I had been dating throughout college, but that night I talked for two hours with a girl that sat across the table from me at the free church dinner. The girl’s name was Juanita, and I was intrigued by her.

That same night, I broke off the relationship with the girl I had been dating. Unbeknownst to me, Juanita, who was planning to be a single career woman, ran back to her dorm, threw her books on the floor and angrily declared to her roommate that she had met the man she was going to marry.  (She was furious because she didn’t want to get married.) Three months later, we did, and we have been married for 53 years.BOBW

I joined the Air Force and Juanita and I traveled all around the United States. We also spent four wonderful years in Germany. I served as a commander and also worked in the White House as a communication officer for President Jimmy Carter. Juanita and I had a very interesting and blissful life, along with a steady income.

What is different about our life now is that I have Alzheimer’s.

Juanita takes on more responsibility now as my care partner. There is more stress on her, and more guilt on me. I feel guilty that she has had to give up some of her life to be responsible for our lives. She doesn’t have as much “me” time, and although we spend more time together, we decided to give up life in a 3000-square-foot home to move into an apartment in a senior living community.

The wonderful thing about the community, however, is that we have a 125-resident support group, and there are quite a few couples like us. We have activities to participate in and new people to meet all the time, so our life is as good as it can be given our situation. Juanita leads a caregiver group that she started all on her own. Her previous work as a mental health counselor is a huge blessing for me and the others who participate, and she also gets a great deal of joy in helping people.

Looking back, we were more prepared than most.

As soon as Juanita noticed cognitive changes in my behavior, she encouraged me to see a doctor. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the “kitchen cabinet incident.” Juanita had asked me to get a pan from a cabinet I had been using for decades. She watched as I struggled to get it to open. I thought the door was stuck, and kept pulling and pulling. Finally, she said: “Honey – try the other side.” The cabinet opened immediately.

Juanita has been by my side every step of this journey since I was diagnosed five and a half years ago. I have a family history of Alzheimer’s and I knew the disease was potentially on the horizon. We were lucky in that we were somewhat prepared for it. I went to seminars and educated myself so that I was able skip the phases of anger, denial and grief and go straight to acceptance. Juanita was right there, ready to step into her new role, always so supportive and helpful. She is calm under pressure, intelligent, creative and bounces back quickly from any frustrations. She makes my emotional life easier by being so extremely patient. We still love to kid each other, although I now often miss the nuances. She is cheerful and has a wonderful sense of humor to this day despite how hard the situation can be on her.

I want her to know how much I love her. Caregivers and care partners don’t expect much appreciation, but they should celebrate the moments when they are recognized, because they deserve it. People with Alzheimer’s often go about life unaware of how much caregivers are giving and can’t show the appreciation for their sacrifice. So much attention is put on the person with Alzheimer’s instead of the caregiver, and I hope to see this change in my lifetime.

I want to see more formal attention given to the caregiver side of the house.

I don’t think that there can be ever be enough support for caregivers. Many people do not know how overwhelming and isolating caregiving can be. We need to support caregivers more now than ever and give them what they need.

Caregivers, stay patient. Don’t give up. What’s the old saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” There is so much expected of caregivers, and the reality is that they can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t let them fade into the background. Support them and let them know their worth. They are our lifeline. I know Juanita is mine.


About the Author: Bob Wellington was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010. He is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2015 National Early-Stage Advisory Group and participates in the Early-Stage Peer to Peer Outreach Program, making calls to newly diagnosed individuals.

Bob and Juanita live in Tacoma, Washington.







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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Oct 272015

I first met my now-wife Shannon at work. I was her supervisor, and since she knew the responsibilities of the department inside and out, I leaned on her for assistance.

We started to get to know each other on a more personal level and then we started dating. She asked me out – I had no idea she liked me in that way! After dating for some time, she took me to Disney World and “proposed”; we had a beautiful wedding on the sands of Pensacola Beach by the Gulf of Mexico and rest is beautiful history.

Learning of my diagnosis sticks in my mind, but not due to feelings of sadness. I was focused on the beauty of my wife. After I asked my neurologist if I had Alzheimer’s and he said “yes,” I remember crying uncontrollably. All I could think of at that moment was what my mother was going through at the time. (Brian’s mother died of Alzheimer’s.) Shannon sensed that. She took my hand and said, “I love you and you will NOT go through this alone. I will always be right here.”

Since then, she has beautifully kept her word.brisha

Before my diagnosis, we travelled a lot; short trips, cruises, trips to New Orleans (my hometown) or Fayetteville, NC (hers) and our favorite destination, Disney World. I used to tell her: “I’m your driver, you’re my navigator and we will go wherever you want to go.” We laughed a lot.

Sadly, the travelling had to stop due to finances. When both of us were working, we could basically do whatever we wanted. That changed when I was no longer able to work. Shannon became the sole financial support. We had to downsize in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle for our college-aged daughter and our son in high school. Shannon has had to adjust to my mood swings, my confusion, my argumentative moments (wanting to do the things I used to but can no longer do, like driving) and losing part of who I used to be.

She has done it all with no complaints and with only unconditional love. She is simply amazing. I’m not sure what I did to deserve her.

Shannon’s biggest strengths are consistency and loyalty. When she makes a commitment, whether it’s professional or personal, she sticks to it – and expects everyone to do the same. These qualities have allowed her to reach a position of great responsibility as an operations manager for a realty company. Her job is hard work and requires long hours but she does it in order to provide for her family. I admire her every day for her strength as a person.

Her personality is a mystery to most but not to me. She is loving, tender, somewhat adventurous, quiet and the funniest person I have ever known. She doesn’t know she is funny, but her dry sense of humor keeps me in stitches most of the time. She talks back to the TV, she figures out who did it on the ‘Who Dunnit’ shows long before the plot is revealed and she loves the ID network. We still laugh a lot, which is wonderful.

I want to thank her and all caregivers. Caregivers – I saw how you took care of my mother, my father, my grandfather and my wife’s grandmother. It takes a certain special type of person to be able to do what you do, but you do it day in and day out. You never complain, you always wear a smile and you’re always there, taking care of your own family or of other families you treat like your own. You are unbelievably wonderful people and for those who are unable to thank you themselves, I thank you!

We can honor caregivers and care partners by giving them something they probably need or deserve – a period of time, whether it’s a few hours or a few days, to have time to relax. This could be a spa treatment, a weekend at a hotel, a manicure/pedicure. Don’t be afraid to ask a caregiver what they want so that you can give them something you know they would enjoy.

I want my care partner Shannon to know that plain and simple, she is my hero.

Shannon, I hope you never feel that the things you do go unnoticed or unappreciated. The vows we took were for better or for worse, in good and bad times, in sickness and in health. You probably never thought it would go to this extreme. Just know, if the tables were turned, I would be right where you are now. I love you unconditionally and you show me that love every day. My only hope is that you can see and feel it in return.


About the Author:  Brian LeBlanc was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014 at age 54. He carries the APOE-e4 genotype, a genetic mutation which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. His mother, father, and maternal grandfather have all died with symptoms of the disease. As a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2015 National Early-Stage Advisory Group, Brian would like to raise awareness of the impact of younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease and be a positive example for other newly diagnosed individuals. His mantra is, “I have Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t have me!”

Brian and Shannon live in Pensacola, FL. Together they have three children.



Oct 272015

Photo credit: Heather Weston

Two years ago, when B. got her diagnosis, I made the same assumption that almost all newcomers to this challenging subject do. I thought it was all about the loved one who now had Alzheimer’s. She was the patient — or maybe the word I used more often was “victim.”

She was, and she is. But the challenge, I came to see, was just as formidable for me as it was for her. I don’t mean to sound cavalier here. Any of us, given a choice between having Alzheimer’s and caring for someone who does, would choose the caregiver role. I know that. I don’t ever minimize what B. faces every day, and how that challenge grows. But being a caregiver is hard. It is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Growing up in Bed-Stuy at the time I did, breaking out of what was one of New York’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods, finding jobs as a very black man in a white man’s world — that was easy compared to taking care of a wife with Alzheimer’s, day by day, hour by hour. Here are a few helpful suggestions I’ve learned through experience.

    • Read the literature. I know that sounds obvious, but the fact is that most caregivers read very little. For one thing, they’re occupied with caring for their loved one. I get it! But frankly, most feel they’ve done enough by just listening to what their doctor tells them. They really haven’t. There’s so much to learn in terms of diet, activity, ways of coping . . . I think you can get a lot of that from our book, but I’d urge you not to stop there. Knowledge helps. It helps your loved one, and it helps you, with specific suggestions on what to do and what not to do.
    • Learn as much as you can about the disease. Maybe this seems like extra homework, but I got fascinated by learning the science of what Alzheimer’s is. I found it oddly comforting to know what doctors have figured out so far—more so to learn what the paths are to a possible cure.
    • Get in touch with your local branch of the Alzheimer’s Association. There are many wonderful organizations out there, from those promoting research and drug trials to commonsense help for caregivers, and we list a number of them in our book. But the national Alzheimer’s Association is in a class by itself—a fount of information, with an unequaled network of local branches to offer all kinds of hands-on help.
    • In groups of three or more, don’t treat your loved one as if she doesn’t exist, and don’t refer to her in the third person. The most loving and well-intentioned caregiver can find himself icing his loved one out of the conversation—with her sitting right beside him. It’s understandable, especially if the disease has progressed to the point where the patient has lost all ability to follow the conversational thread. But even severely impaired patients tend to sense when they’re being excluded— I’d put that more in the spiritual than scientific realm—and to feel hurt and humiliated as a result.

Visit to learn more about the book Before I Forget.
  • Don’t try to finish a loved one’s sentences. Give her time to respond. If she can’t retrieve her thought after a long pause, gently prompt her with what you think she’s trying to say. When this started with B., I made the classic mistake of letting my frustrations get the better of me. B. would let a sentence trail off into space, and I’d jump in to finish it for her. As soon as I knew what she was trying to say, I’d go there first. I still get impatient—I’m only human—but I’ve gotten a lot better at letting B. take the time she needs. I try to be zen-like about it. I mean, after all, what’s the hurry?
  • Avoid being condescending or critical at all costs. It’s debilitating and simply doesn’t work. I tell you this from bitter experience. Before Alzheimer’s, B. and I never— ever—argued. Frankly, that wasn’t because we were both so level-headed. It was that B. was! I was the one with a temper; B. was just gracious enough to keep me calm. When her Alzheimer’s came on, B. was still calm—but I no longer was. I was mad—at fate, and yes, too often, mad at B. Slowly, I got over that and came to terms with the obvious. Alzheimer’s wasn’t B.’s fault, and my lashing out at her—when she forgot something I told her ten minutes before— was of no help or justification whatsoever. Here’s one thing that helped me: I started consciously keeping my conversation with B. to questions that could be answered “yes” or “no.” Instead of “What would you like to wear today?” I’d say “How about these black pants?” In the supermarket, same thing. Not “What shall we have for dinner tonight?” but rather “How about this salmon? With a little salad?” It made for a much happier B. She could participate in the decision and not feel left out—or, worse, hurt by a snappish remark from me.
  • Above all, never lose sight of the dignity within the human being who has the disease. This is so, so critical. Maybe it’s the most critical point of all. Patients get worse with Alzheimer’s—so far, that’s the unavoidable truth, without exception. As they do, they lose physical mobility along with their functioning minds. This is a terrible, terrible process for them—and for those who love and care for them. But even those with severe Alzheimer’s retain their humanity and remain, somewhere inside, the people we knew. We have to honor that, always, even to the last, both for their sakes and ours.

About the Author: Dan Gasby is husband and care partner to supermodel, restaurateur, magazine publisher, celebrity chef, and nationally known lifestyle maven B. Smith, who has younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

Dan has been a television media sales executive and a television producer for both network and syndicated programs. He helped publish and launch wife B’s eponymous magazine and helped cofound her lifestyle retail brand.



Oct 222015

1. Things that seem so important to us in our everyday lives just are not. Mom thought it was important that she follow the strict rules of her religion. She had to wear a skirt every day, as well as have her long hair in a bun. Mom never ever wore jewelry and rarely watched TV. Guess what? The aides put her hair in a ponytail, and she wears the Mardi Gras beads that she wins at bingo!

2. Being angry at family and friends for not taking the time to visit Mom in the nursing home/assisted living is not beneficial to anyone. Everyone is doing the best they can. Maybe they won’t know what to say when they visit, maybe nursing homes make them uncomfortable and they don’t know what to do with that feeling. It doesn’t mean they don’t love her, they do. Forgive, and let your expectations of them go.

3. Alzheimer’s does not take away love. Love is too big. Mom loved her God a lot. Alzheimer’s’ hasn’t taken away that love either. She suffers from chronic back pain, and when I ask her how her back is, she tells me it hurts. And then says God is good to me.

4. All that matters is our moments. That’s how Mom lives now, in the moment. All the things we worry about for tomorrow, so much energy spent on pointless worries. All we have is this moment, this day. Stay there.

5. There is some joy in Alzheimer’s. Yep, I said it. Mom did not have to deal with the pain of losing a niece and nephew that passed in their forties, whom she was close to. She doesn’t think about who is paying her phone bill and when she needs new clothes. She doesn’t know her ex-husband passed away, or that a sister in California died from the same disease she has. She doesn’t know that her sister first stricken with Alzheimer’s is the one in the bed right next to her. Or that yet another sister is on the third floor of the same facility with the same disease. She does not know that a fourth sister is now in the assisted living next door with a form of dementia. That is a lot of pain she didn’t have to face.

6. We will be together again one day. Her mind will be clear, and she will see how much she taught all of us by having Alzheimer’s.

7. It’s OK to be wrong. It doesn’t matter who is wrong and who is right anyway.

8. You will have people along the way that will come into your journey simply to help you and then move on (Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy were not the first things on my brain!).

9. Alzheimer’s disease is a family disease, not an individual disease.

10. I’m stronger than I thought I was. You were right Mom!


About the Author: Christine Dileone MSN, RN, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing.  She uses the resources of the Alzheimer’s Association in her teaching, specifically on communication techniques with dementia patients to maintain dignity.  She is a Ph.D. nursing student at the University of Connecticut, and plans to continue research with individuals with Alzheimer’s.  She coordinates a monthly Alzheimer’s support group and is actively involved in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s® as well as The Champions in the Fight Against Alzheimer’s Women’s Campaign.


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Sep 282015

Four years ago, Mom quit her job so that she could come help me with my twin boys after they were born. I was an exhausted first-time mom who had no clue what I was doing. It was a huge relief to have her by my side during that time.

I started to notice little things about Mom that were different; rather than read too much into anything, I figured that we were both just exhausted. Then the little things started to happen more often. After many doctor’s appointments and tests, my parents visited the Mayo Clinic. It was there, in September of 2011, that my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 59.mb1

I was stunned, paralyzed with fear. People that young didn’t get Alzheimer’s, did they? Would she wake up and just not know me? What is Alzheimer’s, really?  Now what? What do we do?

These were all questions that went through my head. To be honest, they still do. I lived in denial for a long time, doing more research than I knew what to do with. The doctors were wrong, I thought. Some days she seems fine!

It took me a long time to accept the “new version” of Mom. I would get so frustrated, not knowing how to comprehend the disease. I finally sat down with her one day after we put the boys down for a nap, and I asked her what it was like. I wanted to know. I wanted to understand.

mb3She tried as best as she could to explain her thoughts and feelings to me. We cried a lot; we still cry a lot. My mom is my best friend, and her diagnosis has been a long slow process for me. I knew then that I needed to do something to fight for Mom, and fight so I don’t have to live with this disease myself.  I needed to find a way to deal with what was happening and to surround myself with people that understood.

Since I can’t change Mom’s diagnosis, I decided to fight like crazy to change it for someone else.

This last weekend was my second time walking in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Joining Walk to End Alzheimer’s is about more than just raising money for me. While it’s so important to fund research that leads to a cure, my biggest mission is to spread awareness. I want to educate people about what Alzheimer’s really is, and how the ability to complete daily tasks that so many people – including me –take for granted are a huge struggle for my mom and so many others with the disease.  Connecting with others in our community at Walk who understand what we are going through is so comforting, and uniting to make a difference is such a great mb2feeling! Being involved with Walk to End Alzheimer’s has been very therapeutic for me, because I know I am working hard to make a difference. I also know my mom is proud and grateful for what I am doing.


Our family has always been very close-knit; while it’s not always easy, we try to maintain traditions and create new memories, because we are in this together. We understand how each other feels. We are going to fight endlessly so that others don’t have to slowly lose their mother the way I am. This is not a disease that should be hidden or kept quiet. Alzheimer’s is taking over our population, and people need to know what’s happening. We need to talk about this disease. We need to help educate people. We need to Walk.


About the Author: Meghan Blenker, 30, is a mother of three. She Walks as Team Captain of Grammy’s Gang

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Sep 162015

Seattle Seahawks’ J.R. Sweezy is not the tough offensive guard most people know when he’s around his wife Gissell. “She’s everything I ever wanted. I became so much happier when she came into my life. She’s my support system,” he says, lowering his gaze shyly, petting their black Labrador Otis.

Gissell laughs, returning his smile. “There’s that soft side of him that people don’t see,” Gissell says. “I think everyone sees him as just a football player. Not me. That’s just what he does for a living.”

J.R. and Gissell met in sixth grade after she and her family moved to Mooresville, North Carolina. “We were in homeroom together,” said Gissell. “We would laugh and talk, and we became friends.”

Although Gissell wasn’t in the same popular crowd as J.R. in high school, they continued their friendship and attended senior prom together. “We dated and broke up three times from high school into college,” said Gissell. “I was done after the last one,” she said, as she shook her head laughing.

Gissell attended Peace College while J.R. attended NC State University to play football, following his paternal grandfather Roger’s footsteps. “It took time for me to grow up and realize how special she is,” said J.R.

They led separate lives for five years until running into each other at Duckworth’s Grill while visiting family. “We talked for a month after that and then were back together,” said Gissell. “I felt peace. When we’re together everything makes sense.”

J.R. nodded his head with assurance. “We make each other better.”seahawks

Soon after getting back together, J.R. was drafted and selected by the Seattle Seahawks.

“Football is something I’ve always loved, and I’m blessed enough to do it,” said J.R. “We’ve won a lot of games because of our fans, the 12s. It’s the only place like that in the entire NFL, and I’m lucky enough to call it home,” he said about Century Link Field.

“I love it. I get goose bumps just thinking about running out of that tunnel. The 12s are so loud; they’re great fans—they set the mood and keep us going.”

J.R. believes the 12s will also support him in raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. “They go above and beyond, and I think they’re doing that outside of football too.”

J.R.’s Papaw Gene, a successful businessman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease nine years ago. After seeing his maternal grandfather’s drastic decline last April, J.R. and Gissell decided to create #the12s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team to raise awareness nationally for Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we are raising money and have the right people researching and understanding it, maybe we will find a cure one day,” said J.R. “I want to raise awareness from coast to coast. We’re helping now for the future. It’s too late for Papaw Gene, but not for our kids.”

J.R. only gets to visit his papaw two or three times per year, but even now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Papaw Gene will sometimes ask, “Is that the boy that plays football?” and reach for his Seahawks hat.

Both of J.R.’s grandfathers were prominent role models in his life. His Grandpa Roger not only played football, but exemplified hard work and taught J.R. “not to doubt myself, to do what is right and to be my own man. He told me that ‘til the day he died,” said J.R.

They were successful men who led by example. “I’ve learned never to take a day for granted. God’s the only one who knows the in-story.” said J.R. “Just like in football, we can’t take a day for granted, because it could all end in one moment.”

Although J.R. was at the Seahawks’ hotel in La Jolla, California preparing for their third exhibition game on the afternoon of August 29, Gissell was at Seattle University Park with her mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law and other Seahawks’ wives and girlfriends representing #the12s team and raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re soul mates living the dream,” said Gissell. “Every day he works to be a better man—in football and in our personal lives. I’ll do anything for him because he’s the love of my life.”

To read more blogs from the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter, please visit this link.

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Sep 112015

Of the 5 million people in this country living with Alzheimer’s, about 200,000 have younger-onset/early-onset Alzheimer’s. It is not an “old person’s” disease. Some people are diagnosed in their 30s, 40s or 50s. One of them was my wife – my sweet Melinda.

Melinda is the reason I Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Melinda was once a trial lawyer, a scratch baker, an excellent cook, needlepointer, crafter and seamstress. These talents, along with her incredible intellect, engaging smile, laughter and her love for her family made her a wonderful mother and wife.


In 2010, Melinda was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 54. We were shocked and frightened.  For whatever reason – which I cannot explain but am thankful for – Melinda did not seem to dwell on her diagnosis. She remained cheerful in the face of the disease.

Melinda was in an adult day center four days per week between April and August of 2014 so that I could continue to work to support our family and retain our health insurance coverage. On September 2, 2014, I made the hardest decision of my life, determining that she needed to be placed in a long-term memory care facility.

Younger-onset Alzheimer’s is life-shattering. Younger families have children who see the progression of the disease, and therefore experience the ongoing loss of a parent. Breadwinners in the prime of their careers struck with the disease become unable to work, and if they haven’t worked long enough, they won’t be entitled to disability benefits. Families in the prime of their lives are destroyed by a disease that never takes a day off.

bruce2I Walk with the hope that other families will not have this fate.

The impact on our sons Matt and Ben is impossible to measure. Despite the loss of the mother they once knew, they adapted, rallying to help both her and I deal with the day-to-day challenges we faced.  Thankfully, this has not impacted their education. Matt graduated with the highest honors and found employment with a Big Four CPA firm.  Ben is succeeding at the School of Engineering at Mizzou.  I hope they are able to take away from this journey the love, patience and devotion I have tried to give to their mom and that their experiences will make them better people, as I know mine has made me a better husband, father and person.

I Walk in memory of Melinda.

My sweet Melinda passed away on January 14, 2015. I miss her terribly. I believe she is free from this insidious disease that shows no mercy, and that she is now at peace.

Since Melinda’s diagnosis in 2010, I have immersed myself in Alzheimer’s science and research, attending symposia featuring eminent scientists and physicians whose mission is to find the cause and, ultimately, the cure for this dreaded disease.

Melinda’s Memory Warriors Walk to raise money for research and a cure.

There is an oncoming avalanche facing our society. Of the top 10 causes of death in this country, only Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. The thought of losing one’s memory and ultimately one’s dignity is frightening. By participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, we are letting the world know that now is the time to increase the awareness of a disease that will cost our government trillions of dollars in the coming decades if a bruce1treatment or cure is not found.

This is a real crisis for our nation and for the world as a whole. The avalanche is out there, and it will be here before we realize it. Join me today by lending your voice and your legs to the cause in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – for me, my sweet Melinda, and all of those who live with this devastating disease.


About the Author:  Bruce Friedman Walks on team Melinda’s Memory Warriors. He was a featured speaker at the Alzheimer’s Association St. Louis Chapter’s 2015 annual “An Affair to Remember” gala fundraiser and was recently nominated for a position on the National Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services. Bruce was selected in 2014 as the Best Lawyers’ Lawyer of the Year in St. Louis in the area Family Law.

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