Greater Good

Always On My Mind

North Central Texas Chapter
of the Alzheimer's Association

Interview by Frank Geslani

This is the true wine of astonishment: âWe are not over when we think we are.â â Alice Walker

When Connie Flemingâs parents moved in next door, her mother was already nearing the middle stages of Alzheimerâs Disease. âThe family was in denial for a few years,â says Fleming. âIt was especially hard for my dad. He didnât want anyone else in the house. He felt like he could do everything, but it was apparent that my mother needed extra care.â

Fleming and her sister came upon an advertisement for a Northeast Tarrant County walk for Alzheimerâs It was at the kick-off meeting that they realized help was close at hand. They spoke to staff members from the Alzheimerâs Association and soon after were assigned to a case worker. âWe had to convince dad to have her enter the house,â recalls Fleming. âHe was very protective of my mom. We couldnât even say the word Alzheimerâs. At that time she could still understand what was going on, and he didnât want her to feel bad.â

With their case workerâs help, Flemingâs father received four hours of help each week. It proved to be the crucial foot in the door. âMy dad realized he needed help,â says Fleming. âCaregivers get worn out, but they need to realize that theyâre not alone, that help is available.â

Theresa Hocker, the executive director of the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimerâs Association, estimates that about 40,000 to 50,000 people live with Alzheimerâs Disease in their chapterâs 40 county area. That number doesnât even account for people who havenât been diagnosed or who have other types of dementia.

There is no cure for Alzheimerâs Disease, nor is there a way to prevent or slow its progression. Early detection continues to be key. âDiagnosis is not necessarily the end,â says Hocker. âItâs a slow progressing disease, and people can have functioning lives for many years.â

In the more than two decades since sheâs been with the Alzheimerâs Association, Hocker has seen a greater awareness of Alzheimerâs and the issues surrounding the disease. âPeople have more comfort speaking about their situation,â she says. But that progress is tempered by a sobering factâAlzheimerâs deaths continue to rise. According to the Alzheimerâs Associationâs 2013 Facts and Figures, Alzheimerâs deaths increased 68 percent from 2000 to 2010, even as deaths from major diseases like stroke, heart disease and HIV/AIDS are on significant declines.

Like many diseases, Alzheimerâs doesnât just affect the inflicted. It impacts spouses, children and loved ones who see their roles shift dramatically. They turn to the Alzheimerâs Association to help them navigate this thorny stage of life.

âWe want people to know that they can call us day or night,â encourages Hocker. She says calls to their toll-free 24/7 helpline are answered by highly trained and knowledgeable staff. âYou can call us in the middle of the night when youâre ready to pull your hair out. It always feels good to connect to someone who understands your situation,â she says. The Alzheimerâs Association has a wealth of resources. Hocker says they have some 40 support groups for family members, caregivers and people in the early stages of the disease. They provide community workshops, symposiums and even bereavement counseling. Theyâre also on the front lines of Alzheimer research and advocacy.

Fleming and her family have been the beneficiaries of several programs made possible through the Alzheimerâs Association. They connected them with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services which provides them with a respite worker who helps feed her mother, get her out of bed and give Flemingâs dad some much needed rest. The Association has also gotten them involved with a hospice program as the disease progresses.

Theyâve also won over Flemingâs dad. âHe reads all the information I bring to him from seminars and workshops,â says Fleming. âHeâs never been comfortable leaving my mom for too long, but now he understands that you canât do everything by yourself.â

Those who have personally benefited from the Alzheimerâs Association understand the enormous human and financial capital required to continue this critical work. Many have given back as volunteers. Some take part in fundraising events like walks, runs, golf tournaments and galas. Fleming has been involved in several walks, either as a participant or as a supporter.

âI have been a team captain. I have been on committees. I have made many friends in the Association,â she says. âTheyâre a big part of our lives and I canât begin to give back what theyâve given to us.â

Quick Facts

  • More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimerâs Disease today
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies from Alzheimerâs or another dementia
  • 15.4 million caregivers provide more than 17.5 billion hours in unpaid care valued at $216 billion
  • Alzheimerâs is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States
  • In 2013, Alzheimerâs will cost the nation $203 billion and is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimerâs

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or at leisure.
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood or personality.

Itâs important to note that many of these signs may be related to typical age-related changes or other non-Alzheimerâs conditions. Learn more at www.alz.org.

Alzheimerâs Association | www.alz.org | 24/7 Helpline: 1-800-272-3900