By: Kay Lehmann
My name is Kay Lehmann. I am a native Eastern Washingtonian, empowered single person and VIG (Very Important Grandma). I grew up on the banks of the Snake River in northern Walla Walla County. Go to the ends of the earth and the farm I grew up on is beyond that! I moved into the City of Walla Walla in the ‘90s and then became a Tri-Citian in 2009 when I moved to Kennewick.
After 25 years as an educator, I became a realtor in 2014. Being a Seniors Real Estate Specialist, a certification that I earned, I help a lot of senior citizens as they transition to a smaller home or an alternative-kind of housing.
For about six years I have been a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association. When I started as a volunteer, I dove into organizing the Reason to Hope annual gala. In 2016, I joined the Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee and supported the Walk chairman in sort of a co-chair role. The day of the Walk that year he told me he was changing jobs and unable to continue as Walk chair. He thought I should chair the committee. I wasn’t sure I knew enough yet to do so, but I was passionate about growing the Tri-Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I have been the Walk Chair ever since. I am also an AIM advocate. We have an amazing committee for the Tri-Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s! My hope is we can also start working hard on The Longest Day.
I am a volunteer because of the impact dementia had on my family. After watching my dad’s slow, lingering death; a death process that really took years, I was determined to end this disease! I have always loved learning and I am proud of my intelligence, and the thought of losing my favorite part of myself is my worst nightmare. My family was always involved in community activities when I was growing up, so being part of the community came naturally
We aren’t really sure when my dad got Alzheimer’s. He had some quirks all his life but later in life, they become much more pronounced and harder and harder for my mom to handle. We diagnosed him before a doctor did. In fact, he did not get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s the first time a doctor administered an Alzheimer’s test. My mom was crushed because she was sure this is what he had. She had everyone in the family write letters about dad’s behavior and what we all had personally witnessed. The second time the test was given, along with the written testimony, his Alzheimer’s was confirmed. Just having the diagnosis was actually a blessing because then he could take some of the new medications. We had a fantastic doctor in Walla Walla who prepared us all along the way for what to expect next.
Mom took on dad’s caregiving duties and unfortunately, we lost her in 2011, before we lost my dad. Despite our efforts to get in-home help to support her and relieve the all-consuming burden of caregiving, she said “no.” We had help scheduled at one point and she called and canceled it.
That last year of my mom’s life, we saw her just wither away. She was losing weight, losing strength, she was in pain from her own ailments, but mostly, she was physically and mentally exhausted. It was a miracle that my dad, my brother and I were all in the room when she collapsed and was taken from us. I am convinced she waited until I arrived that day because 10 minutes after I got there, she was gone. Our family then had two crises. We had lost the rock of the family, the one on whom we all counted; and we quickly realized dad’s Alzheimer’s was much worse than she had ever told us.
For the first nine days after her death, I stayed at their home with dad until we could get full-time caregivers into their home. Mom had made it clear before she left us that dad wanted to stay at home, so for nearly a year, we had 24-hour caregivers in their home. He was in two different memory care facilities in the last two years of life, one in Walla Walla, and one in Tri-Cities.
Caregiving means never letting your guard down all while trying to help the individual have, as much as possible, a full and meaningful life. Caregiving is also very isolating. Family members who are caregivers struggle to be out in the community or even run an errand. Whether paid or unpaid, caregiving is challenging. We need to do more to bring this disease into the open so we can better support all those families and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
I stay motivated as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association because I am passionate about ending this disease! I love hearing the progress we are making with research and I am proud to support that research with the funds we raise. When someone tells me they don’t know about the services the Alzheimer’s Association provides, I know there is more work to be done. I am so sad when I hear the stories of their interactions with medical providers who don’t understand the disease and its impact on the family. My family was blessed to have had a great doctor. There is always more we can do to educate, support and raise funds to help those with the disease and their families.
Are you interested in volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association? Go to alz.org/volunteer to learn more about our many different volunteer opportunities!