As I wrote in my profile, I am extremely passionate about my volunteer work with the Alzheimer's Association and their mission. The following is a presentation that I gave a few weeks ago at a local church. It outlines how and why I became involved in this important cause.
My name is Sarah Smith and I am a volunteer with the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Currently, I am the Chair of the Peninsula Memory Walk. I am also the granddaughter of Annie Ward. My grandmother has suffered with Alzheimer's Disease for the past fourteen years. I, along with the rest of my family, have watched my grandmother go from being an independent woman who was able to cook and drive, to a woman who is now wheelchair-bound because she simply forgot how to walk. I have watched my grandmother go from a woman who loved to sit for hours at the kitchen table working on crossword puzzles, to a woman who can no longer string enough words together to hold a conversation. Sadly, I have also watched as my grandmother, a devoted mother of two and proud grandmother of three, has lost the ability to recognize her own children.
Alzheimer's is a disease of the brain that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. IT IS NOT A NORMAL PART OF AGING. Every 71 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer's disease. Currently, as many as 5.2 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer's, over 26,000 here in Southeastern Virginia. The disease is now the sixth leading cause of death. Estimates are that 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime. The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other related dementias to Medicare, Medicaid, and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.
Bearing witness to the debilitating effects Alzheimer's disease has had on my grandmother has been devastating to say the least. The worst part, however, is the feeling of helplessness that I am often left with after my visits with her. It is that feeling of helplessness that has drawn me to volunteer with the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. The SEVA Chapter, whose main offices is located in Norfolk, services approximately 7400 square miles of southeastern VA. For more than 20 years, this Chapter has been helping those touched by Alzheimer's and other memory-robbing disorders. The Chapter provides a variety of services including: a 24 hour Helpline, monthly support groups and orientation programs for families, educational presentations and workshops, the Safe Return Program that helps to locate lost memory-impaired individuals, a respite care program that raises funds to help subsidize the cost of in-home respite care or adult day care
The Chapter advocates on behalf of issues concering Alzheimer's disease at the state and national level. The Chapter also supports research through the National Alzheimer's Association, the largest private funder of Alzheimer's research.
I mentioned earlier that I am the Chair for the Peninsula Memory Walk. Memory Walk is the signature fundraiser for Alzheimer's Association and is held across the country every Fall. Locally, the SEVA Chapter hosts 10 Walks beginning in September through November. Memory Walk funds help the Chapter offer care, support, and education in our community. I have participated in Memory Walk for the past 3 years. It has been a way for me to help all those affected by Alzheimer's, including my grandmother. It is also a way to ensure that the dream of a world without Alzheimer's will one day be realized. In closing, let us remember those who can't and together WE WILL END ALZHEIMER'S.
I know that this is a lengthly first post but the work I do is such a big part of who I am. I am often asked if I am afraid of getting the disease since it is in my family. The answer is yes. I am terrified by the thought that I could one day forget my children. I am also shaken by the thought that one day my children my have to see my mother, their grandmother, the way I have to see my grandmother. It doesn't have to be this way. We can work together and fix this so that NO ONE ever has to lose a loved one to "the long goodbye".