Standing up to Alzheimer’s

Group formed in Brainerd to raise money to fight disease

It’s been nearly seven years that Duane Wachholz, Nisswa, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He’s pictured with his daughter, Bailey (left), and his wife, Pam. Both women serve on the Planning Committee for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and they also speak to various groups about the disease. Contributed photo

Not only do we know someone with cancer, today we also know someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the only cause of death among the top ten in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a general term used to describe various diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. Alzheimer’s accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases. One in three seniors die of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women.

There are a group of women in the Brainerd lakes area who have a connection to the disease. They, themselves, have not been diagnosed, but they have loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, or they care for with people with the disease.

Brenda Conley is employed by the Alzheimer’s Association and shortly before she started working for the organization, her father was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), an early stage of memory loss.

“After receiving the written diagnosis, I had many questions and called the 24-hour helpline (800-272-3900),” Brenda shared. “They provided helpful information and support. I was stunned to learn at that time that even though we had discovered it early, there is no treatment prevention or cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. When position (with the association) became available, I jumped at the chance to make a difference. I had worked for the American Cancer Society previously and had seen first-hand the impact dollars could have on research. As I watch my father deal with increasing challenges, I am more committed than ever to raise the needed funds to help other families and hopefully one day find a cure.”

The cost to treat the disease is growing due to the increased number of people, mainly the baby-boomer generation who are reaching retirement age. These statistics are staggering!

As the Community Engagement Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, Brenda is responsible for raising funds for the Northern Minnesota office based in Duluth. She oversees two major fundraising events — The Walk to End Alzheimer’s and Reason to Hope fundraising luncheon in both Brainerd and Duluth. “Funds raised from these events go to provide much needed research and also services to families living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” she said. The Northern Minnesota office serves nine counties including Cass and Crow Wing.

Brenda attends all the planning committee meetings in her area including the Brainerd Lakes Walk to End Alzheimer’s Planning Committee meetings chaired by Pam Wachholz with 13 volunteer members.

Pam lives with the disease 24/7 as her husband, Duane, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly seven years ago. They live on Roy Lake in Nisswa, and Duane now goes to the Breath of Life Adult Day Services at the Good Samaritan Society five days a week for seven hours each day, giving Pam time to work part-time as a hair stylist, serve as a facilitator for two Alzheimer’s support groups in the Brainerd lakes area as well as chair the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Her daughter, Bailey, whose was 13 when her father was diagnosed with the disease, is now a junior at Bethel University, and is also a member of the planning committee. She has participated in many scholarship pageants through the Miss America Organization where she has used her fight against Alzheimer’s as her platform. She has spoken at schools, community events and organizations in order to educate the public, increase awareness, and is a strong advocate to find a cure for the disease.

The Planning Committee for the Brainerd Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer’s recently met to continue finalizing plans for the seventh annual walk to take place on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd. Members are (l to r) Pam Wachholz, Billie Lindstad, LouAnn Owens, Brenda Conley, Julie Florell, Arlene Jones, and Ann Powers. Not pictured are Bailey Wachholz, Jenni Christensen, Billie Lindgren, Laura Dilley, Sarah Peters, Tammy Jo Johnson, and Sara Speer. Photo by Jan Stadtherr

Lou Ann Owen has also been on the committee for seven years while working as a LPN at the Crosby Care Center, from which she recently retired.

“I worked in many areas, but my heart was in my work with residents who had dementia,” she said, adding that she took care of a woman in her 80s whose daughter was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

“It really brought home the fact that age is not the only denominator in developing this disease. Every day was so different with the 18 residents in the dementia unit.”

She said that some residents didn’t recognize themselves in a mirror, and another person couldn’t remember anything said to her. When told she was having breakfast, 30 seconds later the woman asked what is she eating.

“Other residents would sit and not say a word,” Lou Ann added. “Each individual presented with different behaviors as they progressed through Alzheimer’s. The biggest thing to remember when working and interacting with people who have Alzheimer’s and any other form of dementia, is to know them as the individual they are. Go to where the person is at the moment you interact with them. Do not ask generic questions such as, ‘What are you doing?’ Look at what they are doing and say, ‘You are looking at a picture of a kitten.’ Ask simple questions. I tell people that you should put on a friendly smiling face and just say ‘Hello’. If people are unable to carry on a conversation, just smile and sit with them.”

Not only did Lou Ann care for patients with the disease but her mother-in-law, Hilde, had early onset Alzheimer’s that progressed rapidly and has since died.

Describing Hilde’s first symptoms of the disease, Lou Ann said, “She masked it well by hiding things from the family. Her husband passed away before she did and within the next two years, she started to change.”

Hilde always drove to Brainerd, but then stopped and told family members that she could buy whatever she needed where she lived. She stopped having her hair permed after always having it neatly kept. She played cards at the senior center three times a week and eventually stopped.

“She also told the family that she didn’t use her stove any longer as she could make cold meals and didn’t need hot ones anymore,” Lou Ann shared. Family members went to her home at least three times a week. Hilde began falling and then became wheelchair-bound and moved into assisted living. She died about five months later.

Lou Ann is a caregiver for Duane Wachholz. “It is a privilege and honor to stay with Duane when Pam needs a break,” Lou Ann concluded. “I see Duane as he has always been – a good husband, father, a lover of boating, and much more.”

Three years ago, Duane, Pam and Bailey Wachholz were featured in the Senior Perspective regarding his Alzheimer’s and how Pam and Bailey became involved with the Alzheimer’s Association in learning all they could about the disease and helping to educate people and raise funds to find a cure.

At that time, Duane was able to carry on a simple conversation, he drove a car, and he attended events with his wife and daughter. Today, he no longer converses, he needs help with his daily life skills, he doesn’t like crowds, and he cannot be left alone.

Knowing that she will not be able to care for him as he will soon need more skilled nursing care, Pam believes Duane will be admitted to a dementia care unit within the next several months.

Mourning the losses she sees in her husband is difficult for Pam.

“Each day there is less of him there,” she said. “Each time he loses something (in order to function), it’s like death. I’m now his care partner, not a wife.”

Brenda, Pam, Bailey, Lou Ann and other committee members are now in the final stages of planning this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, to be held Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. with the walk beginning at 10 a.m. There are 14 walks being held in cities in Minnesota and North Dakota this month with St. Cloud also holding its walk on the same day.

To raise funds, the local committee sponsors fundraisers throughout the year including a wine dinner, Minnesota State Putting Championship, hair cut-a-thon, and Girls’ Night out. To take part in the annual walk, there is no registration fee, however, every walker is asked to make a personal donation and commit to raising funds in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Participants can walk as an individual or form or join a team and may register the morning of the walk. Donations for this year’s walk can be made through the end of the year.

Every year more than 450,000 people of all ages takes part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in more than 600 cities in the U.S.

The Brainerd Lakes three-mile walk attracted 400 walkers last year. However, committee members admit that they are so busy helping with registrations, accepting donations, handing out water, or other tasks, that they may not find time to join the actual walk.

Participants don’t have to walk the entire three miles. “You can walk three steps to three miles,” Pam noted.

Today, 47 million people are living with dementia worldwide, and that number will almost double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association formed in 1980. The Association declares it is “The Brains Behind Saving Yours.” Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s.

To find more information about the disease or to register for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Brainerd or a city near you, go to Donations can also be made on-line through the same website.

#AlzheimersAssociation #MildCognitiveImpairment

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