By Russell Wing
Why do I give? I support the Alzheimer’s Association to honor my wife of 48+ years, Katy Wing.
Katy is shown in the accompanying photo holding her annual entree strawberry shortcake dinner, a family tradition. We had this special meal every June, made with locally sourced strawberries. It was great fun.
Katy and I met at the University of Washington in the mid-1960s. We married after graduation, and our life together included my military service, our graduate schools, several homes, several jobs and raising two boys.
Around 2013, Katy began showing signs of memory loss. She really didn’t want to hear about it, and I can’t blame her for that. After all, who among us wants to be told that we may no longer be “playing with a full deck?”
Thankfully, after some prodding, she discussed her concerns with her primary care physician. In response, the doctor recommended Katy engage in various activities to stimulate her brain, and so Katy did that. But the memory loss persisted and worsened, because those brain-stimulating activities weren’t addressing the root cause of the problem: Alzheimer’s disease (later confirmed by a post-mortem brain autopsy).
In late 2015, during a holiday driving trip away from home and her usual surroundings, there was an incident where Katy “freaked out” about something. Her reaction was totally out of character for the situation, and it convinced me that some more focused medical intervention was now necessary.
In early 2016, after additional discussions with her primary care physician, Katy had an MRI. The MRI showed a 5 cm brain tumor. From then on, her medical team focused on the brain tumor, something they could clearly see and potentially treat, and they really ignored her memory loss, something they couldn’t see as clearly and weren’t sure how to treat.
The MRI was followed by brain tumor surgery and recovery, and that was followed by worsening Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. In spite of being together for 48+ years, now Katy wasn’t always sure who I was. That was tough.
Then in mid-2017, a follow-up MRI showed that the brain tumor had returned with a vengeance. At that point, Katy’s tolerance for medical procedures had worn very thin. So because the “Original Katy” was gone and not coming back, hospice care was started. Katy passed away in late 2017.
Looking back on our journey with Alzheimer’s disease, and knowing what I know now, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
Primary care physicians need to be better informed about Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, diagnostic procedures and resources for caregiver support. Thankfully, the Alzheimer’s Association is working on this at both the national and state levels. If you are a caregiver, you can find helpful information on these topics on the Alzheimer’s Association website (alz.org).
If you are a caregiver, read the “Dementia Road Map – A Guide for Family and Care Partners,” developed by the Dementia Action Collaborative. Be informed so you can plan ahead, especially for support services as the disease progresses. The journey is challenging enough even with good information. I wish I had had this publication.
If you are a caregiver and want to read a detailed description of what an Alzheimer’s journey can be like, read “The Thief Came in the Night” by local author, Madeleine Fraley. But be forewarned – the journey is difficult, and the book reflects that.
Each year, I participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. In addition to honoring Katy, I walk to raise awareness about this terrible disease — and I walk to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association to fund their various programs, especially caregiver support.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is how I choose to give, but as a former caregiver, I know that families facing this disease can use all the help we can give them. Please join me in supporting the Alzheimer’s Association by making a gift today. Thank you.