Alzheimer’s. The word strikes terror in everyone’s heart, and very few have been spared the profound personal pain of this disease. But hope is within reach. The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s largest nonprofit funder for research into the devastating disease. The funds raised are invested in understanding the disease better, developing new treatment strategies, improving care for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, and furthering understanding of the brain.

There is help and hope in Cherokee County, and you can be a part of it.

Making a Difference

Dan Phillips, who has been involved with the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter for seventeen years, knows well what the disease can do to a family.

Dan’s grandmother, Hazel, and all three of her daughters, including Dan’s mother, Jackie, have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Dan and his wife, Chris, also cared for Chris’s mother during her battle with Alzheimer’s.

After the initial diagnosis of his grandmother and watching the strain on the family trying to care for her, Dan organized a golf tournament fundraiser to benefit Alzheimer’s research. He later got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer. Dan then left his position with Merck Pharmaceuticals to join the Alzheimer’s Association in July 2007. His passion—defeating Alzheimer’s—became his full-time job.

Dan first served as director of community outreach, then as manager of the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in several Georgia counties, and now as manager of the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia chapter’s The Longest Day initiative. The Longest Day, named for the summer solstice—the day with the most light, invites individuals to make an impact by organizing fundraising activities throughout the year to “outshine the darkness of Alzheimer’s.”

Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer's Leap into the Walk Purple Party 2024 event story

Dan Phillips (left) escorts his mother, Jackie, on stage during the 2022 Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Stories from the Trenches: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Over the years, Dan has witnessed many painful stories from families struggling with the disease and feels it’s important to point out, “It’s not just about forgetting things; it’s about mixing things up and being confused.”

It is important to remember that the things in life that challenge us help us grow; the events that can tear us apart, handled with love, can bind us closer together. Sometimes, you can only laugh.

Dan’s mother, Jackie, fell and hurt her arm. He says, “She is 100 percent convinced that her arm fell off, and she put it back on. To avoid arguments and upsetting her, we go with it and tell her that it was really brave of her and that putting her arm back on must have been painful.” The family isn’t mocking Jackie, but instead compassionately affirming that she experienced something painful and helping her feel better about it. It is okay for them to laugh about it.

Another example of the effects of Alzheimer’s from Dan’s own experience involves the memory of his father. Dan will be the first to tell you his father was not a good husband; he was a philanderer and did not treat Jackie well, and they divorced. But after Alzheimer’s took hold of Jackie’s brain, she began to mistake Dan for his father—even mistaking Dan’s wife, Chris, or one of his sisters for one of her ex-husband’s mistresses—and sometimes begins sobbing at the sight of him. Dan says there is no reasoning with her when she is like that; he just has to leave.

What a distressing experience for all: for Dan, bearing the burden of his father’s sins and feeling awful for upsetting his mother unintentionally, and for his mother, to relive those painful betrayals. This is just one example of the complex, convoluted, and tragic turns the Alzheimer’s brain can take.

The Caregiver’s Journey: It Will Take All of Us

The challenges of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s or dementia require so much energy from family members. The challenges are even greater for those who don’t have any family involved.

Daniel and Jo are a couple who live in Woodstock. Daniel’s lifelong friend, Jack, lived in Los Angeles until recently. It became apparent from phone calls that Jack, 68, was struggling mentally and sounded confused. Daniel visited to check on him and was shocked to find the state he was living in. It became clear to Daniel that Jack was living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. His house had become completely unhealthy or safe to live in, and he had become a danger to himself and others.

Since Jack had no family to call on, Daniel made the altruistic decision to bring him back to Woodstock and find him somewhere safe to live, near Daniel and Jo.

Daniel spent almost a month digging through Jack’s house, packing it, and preparing it for sale. Daniel and Jo extensively researched the memory care facilities close to their home and settled on Camellia Place, also in Woodstock. Camellia Place’s mission is to “promote independence through nurturing the mind, body, and spirit of those [it serves] in assisted living and memory care.”

Jack was moved into a beautiful room that Jo lovingly decorated for him. Daniel and Jo breathed a sigh of relief knowing Jack was nearby, safe, and cared for. Then, a few weeks later, they became aware Jack had packed up all his things: the mirror on the wall, pictures hung up, and bedding. Jo gently asked what was going on, and Jack explained he was going with Daniel and Jo on their next Airstream trip they had been talking about. Daniel and Jo learned they were going to have to not talk about trips in front of Jack.

The caregiver’s journey is one of constant learning and adapting to how to best care for their loved one. Jo also took care of her mother, who lived with Alzheimer’s for twelve years. From that experience, she learned the hard way that caregivers often need to protect Alzheimer’s patients financially and emotionally from those pretending to help. According to Jo, a family member moved in with her mother and took out a loan on her mother’s house. She recommends that dementia caregivers get all the legal and financial matters locked up quickly, to protect the person from “someone who [may] come along and take advantage of a vulnerable person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Help is available for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, their caregivers, families, and the general public—24/7, 365 a day, in over 200 different languages. For confidential help, call 1-800-272-3900.

Samantha Seitz, life engagement director for Cedarhurst Senior Living in Canton, has also seen firsthand the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia on the residents of Cedarhurst. “I see every day the changes and life-altering aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s on our residents and, in turn, their families. This disease robs people of chapters of their story,” she says. Samantha says she got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association “to help spread the word and help raise funds that are needed to help support and fund research to find a cure for these residents and for our own families and friends.”

Samantha is one of the organizers of an upcoming fundraising event in downtown Woodstock, the Leap into the Walk event.

 

Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer's Purple Party Leap into the Walk event flyer 2024

Leap Into The Walk

Come enjoy a delicious meal at Canyons Fresh Grill in downtown Woodstock on Thursday, February 29.

In support of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, Canyons will donate 20 percent of the proceeds of your meal to the fundraiser during the all-day Dine & Donate event.

Plus, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, join the fun as the Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer’s hosts a Purple Party at Canyons! This event is a registration kick-off for the 2024 Walk to End Alzheimer’s coming up in October, as well as a way to learn more about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Alzheimer’s Association.

See event details on Facebook

What else can we do as a community to get involved with Alzheimer’s Association fundraising? According to Norma Barragan, Cherokee County’s new Walk to End Alzheimer’s manager, go to GeorgiaWalk.org and click on the October 19 Cherokee County Walk to End Alzheimer’s. That’s where everyone can join the walk, either by registering as a participant or starting a fundraising team.

Once registered, participants and teams can get creative and raise funds any way they would like: by emailing friends and family, sharing their team page on social media, or setting up fun fundraisers like the Purple Party in their community. Participants can also ask their employers about matching gifts available through their company.

 

 

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