Courage… Finding the Way with Alzheimer’s

bailey pamBailey Wacholz was 14 when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even though she and her mom Pam noticed changes, the diagnosis was not immediate.

As the family wrestled with the new challenges in their world they reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association. Like others who contact the Association, Pam and Bailey felt they found help, support, and new family; people who understood- and stood by them, no matter what.

Bailey, now a student at Bethel University, also discovered an unexpected network through the Association. A young woman with a busy life, Bailey had to figure out how this new world was going to work. Several things occurred that make Bailey both a star, and an explorer.

As a pageant participant and Miss Minnesota Outstanding Teen, Bailey chose education, specifically educating youngsters about Alzheimer’s, as her platform. In doing so, she created a curriculum she now takes to elementary and middle schools that includes books and displays to help young people grasp the meaning and implication of the disease. “It is amazing how many little kids are touched by this,” observes Bailey.

In 2010, Bailey attended a session at Austin’s Camp Building Bridges at New Life Ranch in Colcord, OK. Specifically designed to offer young people respite; teenage caregivers can interact with peers, practice skills to help them cope with a relative with Alzheimer’s, and even learn how to become an advocate. It is also a chance to just have fun! Named for the founder’s son, who struggled with her diagnosis of frontal- temporal lobe dementia, the camp serves kids around the country. “I met girls who are in the same situation as me…one from Minnesota, another one from Georgia- I feel like we will be friends forever…” says Bailey.

Bailey and her mom are trained support group leaders, allowing them to share their experience and wisdom with others in the community. “Bailey and I feel we need to educate and support people. People need to know what to do; those with Alzheimer’s or dementia- their family and friends. We also feel people in the community need to be aware, to know how to help out and reach out.”

“The Alzheimer’s Association is always just a phone call or email away. Whenever I called, they jumped on it. Their hearts are truly in it.”

To reach out to Bailey, check out Bailey Wachholz on Twitter

Alzheimer’s

On a cloudless August day, Richard W., 65, navigates his pontoon on the waters of Jennings Bay, Lake Minnetonka. Pulling a laminated map from beneath the pilot’s chair, he points out Dutch Lake, where he, and wife Carol, raised their two girls.

Dick was definitively diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, but the couple, and a colleague of Dick’s, noticed changes when Dick was just 52 years old. Once a full-time therapist, Dick was unable to keep up with the myriad of details of a private practice and tells of a “convergence of issues”. Regarding the diagnosis, Dick says, “it’s a cold shock, but knowing is better than denying it.”

Dad3

My father, pictured here, also had Alzheimer’s. My mother suffered a different form of dementia. I post this as a tribute to mom, who would have been 99 on September 11. I wrote this profile while volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association on MN-ND.

 

For the Wagner’s, the Alzheimer’s Association is at the center of their new reality. “I think the Association has really helped us come to terms with things,” observes Carol. “Through education, the relationships we have, and, building Dick’s self-esteem. There is something so comforting…everyone understands.”

A momentous event for both Dick and Carol was an invitation to speak at the 2012 Meeting of the Minds Dementia Conference. With Carol at his side, Dick spoke candidly about living with Alzheimer’s. They were both amazed how his words, and presence, moved the 1300 people in attendance. “Dick had a huge impact!” Carol recalls. “People came up to us all day long; telling us about spouses who wouldn’t talk about it- people whose spouses had died, and it had gone unspoken.” For Dick, the conference was a unique opportunity. “I feel blessed that people asked me to speak…with the things falling away from me, I could still give a talk.”

Dick also volunteers his time as a mentor for newly diagnosed individuals.  “People can call, if they want to talk. I know how important it is to let them talk to someone who understands…”

“I think it gives people heart,” Dick says softly, “and we take heart from other people.”

WWII, Dad, MN History Center and Discovery

The plane seems to pitch and roll, noise fills the interior and the shouts of the men are deafening. Enemy fire tears holes in the cabin. We are hit! Flames leap past the windows. A green light guides them to their destiny. Jump! Jump now!

A voice covers a new silence, informing me that all but two perished that day.

I am sitting inside a replica of a WWII Douglas C-47 Skytrain. The faces and voices are real, the effect stunning and emotional. For me, this is the core experience of the Minnesota History Center exhibit, Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.

It resonates on a personal level; my father served in the 19th General Hospital (Rochester, NY) in the European Theater. I realize there are quite a few people like me; children of WWII vets, born later in life perhaps. We learn about our parents through family artifacts, books, letters and exhibits, such as the one at the History Center. My dad did not speak of his WWII.

Tragically, we lost touch when I was 28; his mind captured by a different sort of enemy: Alzheimer’s. I had not begun to formulate, or even imagine, the questions I would later want to ask.

The Minnesota History Center is perched on a hillside overlooking downtown St. Paul. Intersected by streets that also lead visitors to the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Minnesota State Capital, it provides sweeping panoramas from its expansive windows.

The Generations exhibit covers birth, the growing up years, the cultural influences of the times, and what society looked like after the war: the boomers…

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Via the Minnesota Historical Society, a portal opens to over two dozen historic sites across the state. From the History Center to Split Rock Light House and Jeffers Petroglyphs, or living history at Oliver H Kelley Farm; the story of Minnesota unfolds.

For me, my visit inspires me to continue the project of reading and archiving my father’s letters and memorabilia. He and I have a great deal of catching up to do.

November 9, 2012