May 112017
 

Winning a gold medal last August in the 2016 Olympics is a moment I will never forget. I wanted to go home that night. All I could think was: “I need to get back to Arkansas. I need to fly home to see my mom.” Of course there were two more weeks to spend in Rio after my event – and the closing ceremonies to attend – but all I could think about was being at home with Mom. Everything I’ve done has been for her.

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 11 years ago, when I was 17 years old. I’m the youngest of six kids, and she always did everything for the entire family, as so many mothers do. She cooked and cleaned and was always ironing and folding my shirts for me. She showed her love through all of those everyday things she did for all of us. My father – who is now her caregiver – was working long hours, so she was the one raising me every day.

I remember the signs.

I remember her cooking meals and then forgetting to finish preparing them. Sometimes she would leave dinner behind to burn or be recooked later. I remember her staying out late and getting lost. There were so many little things that started to become bigger issues.

It was hard watching this happen, because Mom was always there for me. She took me to my football practices and supported me at all my track and field meets. She would scream so loud at my meets that I could hear her over everyone; there was never a time I didn’t hear her. She would do anything for anyone – that was just the type of person she was.

I remember one day in high school when I came home and I saw how badly Mom’s hands were shaking. It was just weeks after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I could already see how sick she was getting. For the first couple of years after her diagnosis, it was rough for me, not really having anyone to talk to about the situation. It was hard just to focus at school.

Luckily, my brother was there. I don’t know what I would’ve done without him.  He told me that Mom had told him everything she wanted us to do. He said: “Jeff, she told me to tell you that you have to finish school.” I remember crying for almost an hour. My eyes were bloodshot, all red. Didn’t they know how hard it was for me to comprehend all of this? I didn’t know where to turn, or who to talk to.

I rarely tell anyone what’s going on in my life; I am naturally quiet and tend to keep things to myself. But I do know that awareness needs to be brought to Alzheimer’s disease, so I will continue to raise awareness of this disease by sharing my family’s story. I want people to tell me their own stories. I want to keep the lines of communication open. When we talk about how we are facing this disease, it helps us feel less alone.

My mindset during the Olympics in Rio was that no one was going to beat me. In my head, it was all for my mom. “I will not lose. I will win gold for her. I can control this moment, and make it mine.” I focused and worked hard, worrying about no one but myself in the moment of competition. It took a whole lot to get to that point, but I did. And I won.

I feel like I am winning every day. I take after my mother, I hope. I am a nice person who cares about everyone. I will talk to someone living on the streets, offer money or help, and give my blessings – that’s how I cope with my situation. I continue to help others as my mom would.

I’m the first man from the U.S. to win gold in the long jump since 2004 and I’m looking forward to pushing myself even further, focusing on sprinting before the next summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. I know I can do it. To the naysayers, I say: “Just watch me. I will do it.”

My mom continues to inspire me. Every day, she still fights through the disease, with my dad by her side. I am so happy she is alive, and that I could bring the gold back to her and place it in her hands. That is all that matters. Mom taught me to keep on fighting, and that is what I encourage other people dealing with this disease to do, whether you’re the child, spouse or friend of a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Talk to each other, support each other and stay grounded. You aren’t alone.

About the Author:  Raised in McAlmont, Arkansas, Jeff Henderson is an American track and field athlete. Jeff took first place with an 8.38 meter leap in the long jump at the 2016 Summer Olympics, bringing home a gold medal to his mother. Jeff encourages anyone in the midst of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to find someone to talk to. Follow him on social media via Facebook and Twitter.

Apr 272016
 

Being a mom is no easy task. It involves headaches, backaches, heartaches and plenty of exhaustion. It can also be one of life’s greatest joys.

Being a caregiver is a difficult role. Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.

We know that mothers and daughters share a unique bond, and this Mother’s Day, we are celebrating mother-daughter relationships that are truly as unique as they come. Watch these videos to hear women with Alzheimer’s in conversation with their daughters about motherhood, their most important life lessons and living with and supporting each other through the journey that is Alzheimer’s.

Carol and Lydia:

Pat, Lita and Laura:

Barb, Caroline and Kimberly:

 

View the full playlist and watch all the videos at this link.

May 072015
 

The purpose of life is a life of purpose. ~Attributed to both Ludwig Wittgenstein and Robert Byrne

I was a nurse for thirty years. Near the end of my career, I began to notice that I was struggling to complete daily tasks. There was always an excuse; I was tired or had worked too many hours. I began having trouble with my knee and took time off work to have surgery. It was during this time that I started to take note of my problems.

I had days that I called “lights on” or “lights off.” When the lights were off I didn’t know when or what I ate, I had no idea if I slept or how long I had slept. Verbal and written information was hard for me to understand, and I got lost in familiar places. If I only lost my keys on any given day that was a good day.

cynthiaGWhen the lights were “on” I had to clean the mess I had made while the lights were “off.” Once, I went to wash clothes and there were no dirty clothes. I had been wearing dirty clothes for days, unaware of how long this had been going on.

In 2011, I found myself at a stop sign and I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. In that moment I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor. I had an eight-year relationship with my primary care physician and felt she knew me really well. During my office visit, I cried while talking with the nurse, and my physician agreed that the changes I was experiencing were not like me.

dinner

My doctor referred me to a neurologist and on my sixty-third birthday, with my son at my side, I underwent testing and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. My son asked questions, but I didn’t. I was happy to know there was a word for my problem, and although I know how this disease will end, every day I wake up and accept who I am that day.

pam

In May 2012, at the urging of my son and son-in-law, I moved into a residential community they both felt would be a good fit for me. I would be close to my family, my care team, and the specialists who conduct the clinical trial in which I am a participant. Yet, the most important part of my care team is my supportive children, and I was grateful to be closer to my son.

Shortly after moving, he spent Mother’s Day with me and afterward he wrote me a letter. I cherish this part:

Mom, I don’t want you to worry or be afraid. Let’s enjoy every single day and not think too much about whether you can remember as well as you could in the past. I will watch over you and won’t let anything bad happen to you. If the time comes when we need to do more for you, I will make sure you have everything you need to have a great quality of life. I wish I could change things. I wish I could take your illness for you and I can’t. All I can do is be there for you and love you.

Yes, I have a loving and supportive family. I am a very positive person and if something starts to bother me I ask myself, “Does this really matter?”


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias is now available for purchase, with all royalties going to the Alzheimer’s Association. Read all the inspiring stories.

I accept my disease and am proud to be a National Early-Stage Advisor for the Alzheimer’s Association. I have made it my goal to inform the public that I live a great life with support from my family. I am very active, and I want to work to change the stigma associated with the word Alzheimer’s. I have met so many wonderful professionals who have allowed me to share my story in an effort to educate others who are dealing with the effects of this disease. With the support of the Alzheimer’s Association, I have advocated for the needs and rights of others with the disease.

I may be just one voice, but together with other advocates, we are unified.

To put an end to this fatal disease, we need to advocate for more research and clinical study participants. As a participant myself, I know I may not benefit from the studies, but someone else will—and thinking about that makes me smile.

As a legacy to my family, I want to be a part of a movement that educates others and helps advocate for people with Alzheimer’s and their families. As this disease progresses, I won’t remember anyone, but I want to live my life so that people will remember me.

 Author: Cynthia A. Guzman

 

From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living With Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias by Amy Newmark and Angela Timashenka Geiger. Copyright 2014 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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