Editor’s Note: The 2017 Walk season begins Saturday, Sept. 9! Register for a walk near you at alz.org/walk.
By Julia Leonard
Living in Butte, Montana, Taylor James puts her favorite memories at her family’s cabin by Wise River, 45 miles from the town she grew up in.
“Our whole entire family on both sides would all go up to the cabin and we would just ride dirt bikes and four-wheelers, all the cousins on both sides. [We would] have dinners every holiday, it was just very family oriented, all of us together.”
Taylor was surrounded by family, occasionally living with her grandparents while her parents ran their two businesses. She developed a close relationship with her grandparents, but as Taylor grew older, her grandma began showing signs of memory loss.
“I was a junior in high school when I first found out that my grandma had it. I wasn’t really sure what it meant or anything like that. My mom just kind of told me that she wasn’t gonna remember. After that, I just remember her slowly forgetting me and my grandma has always been my best friend. It was very, very difficult for me.”
Taylor’s grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was extremely tough for Taylor’s family, as her mother and father were both fighting cancer at the time.
“Everyone was very distraught,” Taylor said. “My mom knew because my grandma’s mom, my great grandma, had [Alzheimer’s] as well, which she passed away from before I was born. My mom knew what it was going to do to her mom. My mom was just completely destroyed.”
After her diagnosis, a traumatic moment would lead to the acceleration of Taylor’s grandma’s symptoms of Alzheimer’s, including her memory loss.
“She was picking up my cousin from elementary school and a drunk driver hit her. That’s when the Alzheimer’s really took its toll. It’s like she wasn’t remembering [things] and then it went into full force of action. [The accident] triggered her the most.”
Taylor began working at the memory care nursing facility her grandma and great aunt were living in since their diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t until four years after the diagnosis, that Taylor’s family learned about the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I wish people would have told me what I was about to go through,” Taylor said. “I know for me, working at the [facility], it always helped because I had a story that could help somebody so me just telling my story to other family members coming and holding their hand through it really helped me because I didn’t really have that.”
The difficulty of watching her grandmother progress through Alzheimer’s led Taylor to coping mechanisms for her emotional pain.
“I turned really bad into drugs and alcohol. I’m actually in recovery right now and that’s the reason I moved to Washington…My grandma passed away last June and I was just extremely depressed. I realized that I just couldn’t take it anymore and so in October, I called my parents and told them I couldn’t do it anymore. They actually heard of Sundown, which is a treatment center [in Washington] and so they sold the truck for me to go to treatment. I’ve been clean and sober since October 2nd, I just had my 9 months.”
Taylor’s incredible resilience through her rehabilitation, and the hardships of a loved one battling Alzheimer’s disease, created a desire to share her story and raise awareness.
“I knew that I wanted to do everything, because I couldn’t be there for my grandma anymore in Montana, so I knew I had to do something. I looked up everything I could about the Alzheimer’s Association and the first thing was the walk. I knew I had to get involved and so then I contacted Clare, we emailed back and forth, and that’s kinda how I got introduced to it. I had told my family all about it and they’re actually going to come down [from Montana] and do the walk with me.”
Taylor has already shown immense dedication to the Association and helping others by attending the Seattle training for the Yakima Walk.
“I haven’t really been around people who have things in common with Alzheimer’s besides my family, and hearing that other people have suffered from what I have has helped me so much. Every person there had a story that was just like mine and I felt like I had really belonged there.”
The Yakima Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be Taylor’s first. The support she has received from her family has been tremendous, but she never forgets the impact Alzheimer’s has on someone.
“I know that it tears families apart. I think people don’t realize how serious it is. I don’t think people know enough. I think that there needs to be more research on it because I know when I found out [about Alzheimer’s] I didn’t know enough.”
Join Taylor and the thousands in Washington and Northern Idaho walking to end Alzheimer’s. Register at alz.org/walk.