By Haley Benningfield
“I am having memory problems and I don’t know why. Nothing’s making sense to me.”
LuPita Gutierrez-Parker was a Regional Admissions Advisor for Eastern Washington University for 10 years, following a 32-year career in social services.
In 2015, she became more forgetful with names, dates and recalling basic information. Her job required frequent computer work and she found herself experiencing increasing difficulty navigating new software and recalling standard inputting procedures. During review of written materials, LuPita found herself reading the same passage over and over just to comprehend its meaning.
At first she blamed it on “having too much on my mind.” She decided to see her doctor when her confusion and command of language started to affect her presentations to high school students in her role as an admissions advisor.
LuPita’s physician performed cognitive testing before referring her to a neurologist. Following a neuropsychological evaluation and PET scan, she was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) at the age of 61.
“I felt overwhelmed and just sat there and listened,” LuPita says. “I was shocked, but at the same time I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t going to be good news.”
LuPita agonized the next few weeks trying to decide how to break the news to her friends and family. Finally, she shared her diagnosis with her two adult daughters. “They were devastated,” she says. “I kept thinking how unfair that they will have to be my caregivers someday.”
Recently, LuPita’s youngest daughter, Jessica moved back home to provide support as her care partner.
LuPita is now taking steps to plan for her future. She has prepared a living will and has established a power of attorney. She has also developed a care plan with her daughters to address her needs as the diseases progresses. Soon afterward, she shared the news with others.
“It is never easy, but I just needed to put it out there so that we could begin dealing with the new me,” LuPita says. “In our Latino community, people don’t talk about dementia. A lot of the Hispanic people are not reaching out; they are not going to the doctor. No one person or family should go through this dreaded disease without information about Alzheimer’s.”
LuPita is interested in advocating for education and outreach to diverse communities. As a newly-appointed member of the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2017-2018 National Early-Stage Advisory Group, LuPita wants to raise awareness and make it easier for families to access resources in the wake of a diagnosis.
“How can we make it easier for people to get information about the resources available to help them? I had to do so much research on my own, but not everyone is in a position or has the skills or resources to do that easily.”
LuPita lives in Yakima, where she participated in the 2017 Yakima Walk to End Alzheimer’s holding the Blue Flower during the Promise Garden Ceremony, which represents a person who is living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Along with her daughter, Lizzette, she is being featured for the Association’s Honor a Caregiver campaign, which encourages everyone to show how grateful they are for the caregivers in their life.
Within her family and as part of her former career, LuPita was a guiding light for those in need of assistance. As an Alzheimer’s advocate, LuPita continues to be one.
“I am me: I love life, my daughters and my family, and plan to help others in communities of color learn more about MCI and Alzheimer’s.”
Support LuPita and others impacted by Alzheimer’s by participating in the Post-Walk Match Challenge. All gifts of $30 or more toward a Washington or Northern Idaho Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be matched 2:1 through December 31 — up to $50,000!
If you or a loved one needs help or has questions about Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, contact our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.