A journey with Alzheimer’s

September 2, 2021

Wendy Smith with her father Owen Grisham

Recognizing the signs

Wendy Smith was a caregiver for her father, Owen Grisham, during his six-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She lived close to her parents and handled their finances and doctor’s visit. Leading up to his diagnosiss, there were many signs about his condition. Her father got lost driving, was forgetting things and his sleep became erratic. A turning point came when her father took a fall and Wendy had to call 911 to get him to the ER. In the past, she always went back with him for the assessment, but she knew it was best if the doctors could do a complete review without her answering on her father’s behalf. After that visit, it was deemed it wasn’t safe for him to return to independent living.

Transition to memory care

“One of the stigmas in the Black community is not putting your family away (in a home),” Wendy said. “They want to take care of their parents at home. My parents told me they didn’t want to live with any of their kids, and they understood the importance of letting them lead their lives. I wanted to honor my parents and the best way I knew to do that was by finding the best memory care facility I could.”

Don’t fear diagnosis

“In the Black community, sometimes people just don’t want to face a dementia diagnosis. If they don’t know, it’s not real,” Wendy said. “But I encourage people to come to terms with it. I had to learn that this is not the person, but the disease. That didn’t make the journey any less heart-breaking though. When you’re on this journey, know there are resources available to families – talk to your health care provider, take advantage of programs from the Alzheimer’s Association – anything you can do to help you be better prepared as a caregiver.”

Honoring a life well-lived

When her father was diagnosed she wanted to be a part of the larger community of families on this journey. She saw an ad for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Milwaukee County and signed up. “I felt like I was thrown into this Alzheimer’s life, so I should embrace it,” Wendy said. “The Walk was very mind-blowing – to see how many people were there and to listen to their stories. It’s very emotional, and even after 8 years of walking, I get choked up every year.

“I encourage others to get involved in the Walk,” Wendy shared. “You’ll find out that you’re not alone. There are so many caregivers out there and we’re all just trying to figure it out.” The 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s Milwaukee County Walk is taking place September 19, at Henry Maier Festival Park and you can register at: act. alz.org/Milwaukee.

The Alzheimer’s Association Wisconsin Chapter provides free resources, programs and services to families on a journey with Alzheimer’s. They also offer a 24/7 Helpline 800.272.3900 to support families. Find additional resources at: www.alz.org/wi.

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