Family, fitness and faith are all at the center of my being. I was a caregiver for 13 years for two of the most important men in my life – my fathers. Like many caregivers, I experienced the joy and heartbreak of caring for my parents. It was a journey that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes made me cry.
When my father was diagnosed with dementia after suffering from two strokes, I was concerned about his quality of life, so I moved him into my home and hired nurse assistants to help me take care of him. Eventually, God sent me an angel named Lenell Wyatt who moved into my home and took care of my Papa as if he was her Papa.
It was a blessing to have Dad at home with me. We had a beautiful relationship. Every morning it was like waking up to sunshine.
There were many ways dementia changed my Dad, but I made sure he was always physically, mentally and spiritually stimulated. To help him develop a new norm, I took measures to focus on his wellness daily. We kept busy with senior church programs, bingo and movie nights, field trips, aquatics, art classes and tennis. We also had date nights once a week. Papa loved to go salsa dancing…well, he stood in one place snapping his fingers while the pretty girls danced around him. Every single day was full of these sunny moments.
I believe everyone can live their best life, and this includes people with dementia and Alzheimer’s – and their caregivers.
With more than 25 years in the fitness business, I have seen firsthand how having a purpose, the right mindset and setting goals can help create change. To continue the legacy of my father, I’m educating, inspiring and empowering people about dementia, whether it’s about caregiving, the emotions that come along with the disease or the financial impact it has on families. I would like to support families who have loved ones living with this disease and keep the lines of communication open so that other people don’t feel alone in their fight.
That is why I am walking in Walk to End Alzheimer’s this year.
My Dad passed away last June. I put my head on his belly, and saw him take his last breath. He was surrounded by those that he loved, and he was ushered into glory with the lead singer from the praise and worship team singing “Amazing Grace” and “Precious Lord.” It was the greatest honor to take care of him and he lived his best life.
For my Papa and millions of others like him, I continue to work to make sure my story is heard.
I know my passion and purpose is to connect with families and friends at Walk to motivate and reach their souls! Our shared goal is a world without Alzheimer’s. Let’s put strategies in place to make that happen. Let’s walk.
About the Author: Donna Richardson is an international lifestyle and fitness expert, author and talk show host. She has starred in award-winning videos for Nike, ESPN and Beachbody, the best-selling “Buns of Steel” and now her own “Old School Dance Party Workout.” She has served on the Women’s Sports Foundation Board, the LPGA Foundation Board, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board and as an Advisory Board Member for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She is an Ambassador for the “Let’s Move” initiative, has taught at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for girls and is the founder of Grow Green Get Fit, a nutritional, physical and environmental curriculum for school-aged children taught at YMCAs across the country. Donna is the only member to serve on both President Obama’s and President Bush’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN). She was inducted into the Fitness Hall of Fame and named “One of the Most Inspirational Women in America” by Essence Magazine. Join her at the Walk in Dallas, Texas.