By Carolyn Birrell
I grew up in the small town of Holley, NY, and moved to Atlanta, GA, in the mid-80s where I worked for the American Cancer Society National Headquarters and then as a real estate agent and new home builder. After 20 years in the Peach State, I retired to the Gem State, landing in Bonners Ferry, ID, a near-duplicate of the town where I grew up.
Soon after my move, I managed to move my aging mother to be near me and spent the next eight years caring for her while learning “all things dementia.” It was during that time that I started chronicling her stories, writing things down initially to make sense of her early-stage dementia and the terrifying behaviors that came with it.
It quickly became obvious that I needed help with how to care for her and I began searching for tips and clues in the published books out there at the time. It was 2012 and I was having trouble finding many that hit the mark with real life stories I could relate to, and I really struggled. I was fortunate to discover the Alzheimer’s Association’s Local Chapter Meetings and I found several helpful online sites (referenced in my book), but I was drowning. I made so many mistakes! And I never stopped writing things down.
Somewhere along the way I realized that I’d been compiling the very stories I had searched for in the early days, and that I might have found a way to help others who are feeling lost like I was. That’s my sincere hope.
These days you can usually find me on my paddle board, plucking strings on my ukulele, or pulling weeds.
Birrell is the author of “Walking with Fay: My mother’s uncharted path into dementia.”
She is the keynote speaker for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Journey Conference on Saturday, March 25 at the Lynnwood Convention Center from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. This conference offers tools and encouragement to unpaid family caregivers supporting a loved one with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia. Topics to be covered include:
- Emergency Planning
- Difficult Conversations
- Practical Tips for Everyday Living
- and more!
For more information, email our team at JourneyFamilyCaregiverConf@alz.org or call 425.654.0947.