By Alexander Sokoll
“It’s really a good feeling if you think you might make a difference. Even if it’s in the life of one person.”
We as individuals are capable of much more than we think. We’re sometimes fooled by our own abilities and power. Individuals like Sandy Bacus lead the way and show how one person can find the power to impact thousands of others.
It wasn’t long ago that Sandy received news her mother, Lillian, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A St. Louis resident at the time, Lillian moved to Stevenson, WA, a rural community east of Vancouver, to live with Sandy and her husband, Joseph. For Sandy, the experience was anything but familiar. “She was the matriarch of our family” Sandy said, “everyone looked to her for advice and it was quite a role change. I was really getting worn down.” After being a dedicated caregiver for two years Sandy made the difficult decision to place Lillian in a care facility. Sandy visited her every day until she passed away in 2009.
After her mother passed Sandy was ready to move forward. Until her family received another shock. Just months after her mother’s death Sandy’s husband Joseph was diagnosed with dementia. “My mother passed away on June 30, 2009” Sandy recalled, “And on October 7, 2009 my husband was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.” At the time Joseph was in his late 50’s.
We all deal with struggles differently. In Sandy’s case, when her husband was diagnosed she took action and became an advocate for people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Because of her own experience as a caregiver Sandy has advocated for easier access of information for families from diagnosis and throughout the disease. She has been vocal about the lack of support groups in rural communities, particularly groups focused on the unique struggles of those caring for loved ones with a younger-onset diagnoses.
Sandy’s advocacy efforts began after a conversation with the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline. Since then, Sandy has used all of the resources she could find to help her care for her husband. “When we were getting the diagnoses for my mother and my husband, we weren’t given any guidance” she said. ”I found out about caregiving information and how to speak to someone with dementia, how to help change their focus, so many different important things. And that’s how I got involved with wanting the support group, to share information, to share experiences.” Sandy has continued to work closely with the Alzheimer’s Association to create support groups in her area
Inspired by the benefits this could provide to her community Sandy spoke with her Congressional District Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler about a lack of information at the point of diagnosis. “You know how traumatic it is and wanting help and not being able to find it” Sandy said. “I spoke with her regarding that and I explained what it was like to not know where to go or even what questions to ask. And she really took note of that.”
It was advocates like Sandy who spoke out to representatives that helped promote The Hope Act, a bill that provides information to families at that moment so they don’t feel lost.
It only takes one spark to light up the room, and Sandy’s spark has shined bright in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This disease is undefeated, but we have what it takes to achieve our vision of a world without Alzheimer’s. On this mission there are always opportunities to help provide support, take action, inspire courage and create an impact. We as individuals are capable of much more than we think. Imagine what we’re capable of together. Join Sandy and thousands of others in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Visit alzwa.org or call 1.800.272.3900 today.