Marie Raschko-Sokol has been involved with the Alzheimer’s Association since 1980. At that time, Marie was working as a director of adult day health centers, and her late husband was a director of elder services at a mental health organization. They both saw a need for more services to support families facing Alzheimer’s and helped bring the Alzheimer’s Association to Spokane. Fast forward to 2021, and Marie continues to be an Alzheimer’s advocate and is now a board member for the Washington State Chapter.
Marie devoted her career as a social worker to the fields of aging and mental health and has been a long time advocate for various organizations with the goal of working towards a better future for aging community members.
“I think my passion was providing support and caring for people because there was not a lot of resources available. Now, I think it’s kind of an investment in all of our futures. It is an investment in my future,” she said.
Marie has some personal experience with the disease as well. She lost one of her good friends to Lewy Body dementia a few years ago. In the 1970s, Marie’s grandmother had dementia and her aunt became her caregiver. At the time, Marie says, people did not talk about the disease and doctors were not sure what to say to people with memory loss.
“My experience over the years is that Alzheimer’s became a catch-all word. I think physicians really minimized dementia and, you know, put a tag on it and kind of left it at that, and didn’t always provide a lot of support or education,” she said.
One of the Alzheimer’s Association’s priorities for Advocacy Day 2021 is asking legislators for a $926,000 appropriation that funds two Dementia Resource Catalyst positions, one in Eastern Washington and one in Western Washington. Families will receive direct dementia-specific services in their own communities through the Area Agencies on Aging. Further, the funding will be targeted to address disparities in care for people affected by dementia.
Marie thinks funding these Dementia Resource Catalyst positions is important for both families impacted by dementia, as well as the state budget. “My experience is that, for so many years, especially the 1970s to the 1990s, older people who began to experience difficulties were placed into nursing homes. So, we developed community-based services for older adults.Then, we added adult day health, we added in-home care services and we provided community services to keep people out of nursing homes. The result was that nursing homes declined because we no longer needed as many nursing homes. That saved the state budget millions of dollars because we took the money and put it into community-based programs.”
She added, “What we all know now is the fact that we are all aging, and the number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will continue to increase over the years, and that’s where I think the new funding is extremely important” she said. “The fact is, people want to stay in their own homes as long as possible.”
Marie encourages people who have personal experience with dementia to get involved with advocacy. “I’ve been involved in advocacy over the years … and, we always went to the legislature asking for funds, but the legislators want to hear the personal stories. They really want to hear what the impact is on the community, more than having agencies or other people talking about services. I think that personal stories and individual concerns and needs should continue to be heard by the legislators and by Congress. I think what we’re experiencing is the fact that legislators are now beginning to have experiences with their own family members, so we just need to remind them that it impacts everyone.”
Her advice for people considering being an Alzheimer’s advocate? “You’re with friends. You’re not doing it alone. There is always someone who can help you talk about your experience. This is a real opportunity for you to be able to step up, get support from others and hear what’s happening.”
Our 2021 virtual advocacy series begins Jan. 21, 2021 with the New Congress Advocacy Kickoff. Join the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement as we celebrate our recent policy victories and launch our advocacy campaigns in the new 117th U.S. Congress. Learn more here.