Finding Hope After Loss in the Family: Alzheimer’s Care
My mother was the type of person who remembered every birthday, every anniversary. I first noticed a change in her when she forgot my birthday. In 1974, she was diagnosed with a little known illness-Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, we did not have the benefit of the Alzheimer’s Association. This was the beginning of the seventeen year journey during which we watched my mother slip away.
During my mother’s illness, I gained a greater appreciation and respect for my father. He cared for my mother when she became ill. He took on household responsibilities that he normally would not have.
Early in my career as a teacher, I tried to relieve my father by caring for my mother on the weekends. Later, I took a year of leave. I sincerely wish I had known about the Alzheimer’s Association during this time.
My father was in his early eighties and still taking care of himself when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We were devastated. My younger sister, Verna, a state senator, had the wisdom to seek out the Alzheimer’s Association this time. Verna has become an advocate. Her lobbying efforts include increasing funding for research and education.
My personal advocacy work started when my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, formed a nationwide partnership with the National Alzheimer’s Association to educate African Americans. I was amazed at how many of my sorority members had loved ones with this disease.
When our parents died, we wanted do all that we could to help other families cope with Alzheimer’s. At my mother’s funeral, we asked that in lieu of flowers a donation be given to the Alzheimer’s Association earmarked for education in the African American community. With those funds and the Alzheimer’s Association’s resources, the first Caregiver Conference was held. When our father died, we made the same request of our friends. With those funds and additional resources from the Alzheimer’s Association, the first annual Virginia I. and Pythias A. Jones Memory Loss Conference was held on November 19, 2005 at Coppin State University.