Today is the longest day of the year — and as evening sets, Alzheimer’s advocates across the globe are pushing themselves to the finish line of a 16-hour endurance relay to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s.
This event, Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day™, and the dedication it requires holds such significance for those who have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. It symbolizes the endurance, love, patience and strength it takes to live with this disease — and believe me — it does require all of these things. I know because I am a caregiver for my husband, Earl, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 64.
For us, the longest day was the day that Earl retired. He left a very successful law practice to enroll in a day program that provides activities and socialization for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s. The transition isn’t one we ever imagined he would be making in this life. And the reality was a difficult one to accept.
But, on that day — and all the days since — we put one foot in front of the other. We have now been living with Alzheimer’s for four years. We take with each day as it comes and deal with it together.
We gather strength from other couples that are dealing with similar situations. I have made strong friendships with four other women whose husbands have Alzheimer’s, and we meet regularly to support one another. Earl and I also go to a younger-onset support group and participate in events to help raise awareness.
Much of Earl’s energy is spent volunteering on projects. While he can no longer practice law, he finds meaning in helping others. He volunteers at a food bank and at our church. He’s passionate about his many volunteer activities and finds strength in giving himself to others.
As the disease continues to progress, my role as caregiver has changed. It is now a 24-hour job, but one that allows us time together. While it requires patience and love, there are days and moments to relish. We bike, go to yoga three times each week and stay active. We still have this time together — right now — and we are determined to cherish it.
Both Earl and I have hope that one day, there will be a way to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s, and that our children and grandchildren will not have to deal with this disease again later in their lives. Just as there is an end to the longest day of the year, we believe there is an end to this disease. When all of those affected by Alzheimer’s stand together, our impact can be great.
Sandy Reiland is a caregiver for her husband Earl Reiland, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008 and served on the Alzheimer’s Association Early-Stage Advisory Group in 2011. A working caregiver, Sandy is an HR professional four days a week. She has been married to Earl for 30 years, and together they have four children and four grandchildren.