By: Rita Carlson
Learning about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s
It is my privilege and honor to be a part of the Alzheimer’s Association’s North Idaho Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Coeur d’Alene for the third year in a row. My mother moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2019, and I happened to see a flyer at her memory care community. I asked the staff if I could join in, and they said yes. I was looking forward to the Walk and taking my Mom. We each earned our purple t-shirts, and she seemed excited to be a part of it. But it snowed that September (from what I understand, for the first time since 1925), and I didn’t want to take Mom out in it. So she stayed home but was very happy when I later presented her with two medals from the Walk. She displayed and wore them proudly, and kept the colorful flowers on her wall all year. We wrote the names of all of our donors on the flower petals and thanked each one for their donations. It was a great and meaningful experience for both of us!
My Mom was a housekeeper, nurse, a Brownie leader, a Girl Scout leader, taught religious education classes at church, helped the homeless population with food, money and clothing and was very active her entire life. She was always helping and doing something for someone. She raised five kids alone as a single mom, and once we all graduated from high school, she returned to college to earn her degree and received her master’s degree in psychology. She worked as a family counselor at first, but realized her passion was as a social worker, helping children learn and grow and live better lives. She inspired others in the family to go to college too, including me and five of her granddaughters. We all pursued professional careers thanks to the degrees she encouraged us to get.
Mom had diabetes and high blood pressure and had a mild stroke when she was 65. A few years later, her husband left her for another woman. She had a few more strokes and a couple of incidents (such as forgetting to turn off the stove) and eventually had to sell her home and move into assisted living.
Mom’s health slowly deteriorated, and the first signs of dementia seemed to appear at about the age of 80. We didn’t notice it at first, but she was diagnosed by her doctor. Her blood sugar levels were out of control, she was having trouble standing without assistance. She went from using a walker to a wheelchair by the age of 82. She was speaking less, and after a few months in dementia care, she seemed to lose interest in food and stopped eating. Her weight loss was rapid; she lost about 85 pounds in less than a year. But even in her infirmity, she continued to be a light to others by her gracious manner and continuous smile.
By the time COVID hit and her community went on lockdown on March 14, 2020, she seemed quite depressed. I used to visit her daily and would take her treats, have coffee with her and helped lead an exercise class (because she wouldn’t go if I didn’t go). She had become nonverbal. It seemed like she did not understand the lockdown and why I had to try to talk to her from behind a window, instead of coming into the building or her room to visit, or hold her hand or have coffee.
We tried video calls, but she just wasn’t interested. I know she missed the personal contact. My sons and their families, including her 11 great-grandchildren, would visit. The kids would paint and color pictures and make signs that we would tape to her windows for her to see. Her last smile to them was sometime in April. She went on hospice care on April 28 and passed away peacefully on May 3. I was very blessed that her community allowed me to stay with her for the entire seven days she was on hospice care. They told me I would be allowed to visit her, but once I left the building, I couldn’t return, so I stayed with her the entire time.
Why I Walk
I was not going to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2020. COVID affected so many things, and I was still grieving the loss of my mom. I just didn’t feel like it. But once I decided I needed to continue the fight, it felt good, and it may have been the most positive thing I did in all of 2020. I was grateful to be involved for my second year. Mom’s enthusiasm for life and love for others continues to inspire me.
I started supporting this fundraising effort for Alzheimer’s because of my mom. I continue for our children and grandchildren. I do hope and pray for a future without dementia or Alzheimer’s!
Walk to End Alzheimer’s is happening — and you can join us at your local event or Walk From Home in your neighborhood. No matter where you Walk, your participation makes a difference in the lives of those facing Alzheimer’s today and in the future. Visit our website to find the Walk nearest you and register today!