30 years, 30 Walks to End Alzheimer’s

Early in her professional career, Sandy Clarke was employed in retail management when the feeling came over her that she needed more personal satisfaction in her work life. She felt the need to “give back” to the community. That decision led her to take a job as a certified nursing assistant.

“I fell in love with seniors,” she said, and started her down a new path that redefined her career and led to a virtual second career as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association.

It was in 1990, when Sandy was working as certified nursing assistant and activities director in the Colorado Springs senior living industry, that she first offered to get involved in the brand new Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk. Before she knew it, she was chairing the event.

That inaugural Memory Walk – since redubbed the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – raised $2,000. Thirty years later, Sandy is still helming the Colorado Springs event. This is her final year as chair before devoting more time to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and her committee is working towards a much more ambitious goal of $285,000.

Employed full-time as memory care director at Bear Creek Senior Living, the winner of the 2019 Joe Henjum Senior Accolades Volunteer Award acknowledged that she’s tried to step down from the Colorado Springs Walk leadership role a number of times, but the 30th anniversary feels like the right time to turn the reins over to someone new. “I suspect I’ll always be involved in the Walk on some level,” she admitted.

Making a difference for people living with Alzheimer’s

Sandy’s early years in the assisted living industry helped motivate her to be an agent for change on behalf of at-risk seniors. She perceived a need to improve living conditions for seniors, and particularly those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The industry used to do more restraining of people with Alzheimer’s, which is not right,” she said. “We need to be focused on quality of life and purpose in life – being happy.”

That career change led Sandy to immerse herself in the issues that affect older people. Beyond her day job, she has volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association in a number of ways. She has delivered Alzheimer’s-related education programs in the community, and served a total of 14 years leading Alzheimer’s support groups, including an early-onset group and one focused on frontotemporal dementia.

The target audience for Sandy and the Alzheimer’s Association is a large and growing one. An estimated 73,000 Coloradans are living with the disease – among nearly 6 million people in the U.S. and 47 million worldwide. In Colorado alone, another 250,000 family members and friends serve as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones.

The money raised through the Colorado Springs Walk to End Alzheimer’s – one of a dozen Walks around Colorado and hundreds across the country – go to support education, programs and services provided at no charge to families, as well as research to find a cure for the sixth-leading cause of death for Americans, and the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure.

“It is volunteers like Sandy who make the Alzheimer’s Association run,” said Charlotte Long, development manager who oversees the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Colorado Springs. “Of course, most volunteers don’t commit to a 30-year term of service. We’ll forever be indebted to Sandy for all she has given to us in service of the Colorado Alzheimer’s community.”

“Stop being mad” – caregivers share Alzheimer’s coping strategies

The family of Lonnie McIntosh made a commitment: to care for their husband and father in their family’s Denver home as long as possible. For 15 years after he suffered a stroke, and five years after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, wife Jan and their four children cared for Lonnie at home until he passed away a year ago, just a week after his 75th birthday.

“Alzheimer’s is a frightening but interesting process,” said Jan. “We went through phases. Fortunately, our doctors at Kaiser Permanente referred us to the Alzheimer’s Association, and they immediately embraced us. That’s what saved us.”

With the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Lonnie’s interactions with his family became more challenging, although son Justin noted that “it never got to the point where he didn’t recognize us.”

Besides Lonnie’s overall health, one of the major changes was his personality, which became more unpredictable. At times, the family feared for Jan’s safety as Lonnie struggled with paranoid thoughts and would become agitated and aggressive.

“This is what I call the dark days,” said Jan. “I didn’t know what to do. The kids worried about my safety. We didn’t know if we would be able to continue to have him safely at home.”

“As a caregiver, I tried to be conscious of how his dementia was affecting me,” said Justin. “You’re going through it with him and it can affect you in a negative way. You need to reframe from time to time.”

Justin recalls driving down the street, fresh from an interaction with his father, where he had to keep reminding himself: “stop being mad…stop being mad.”

Working as a team

The McIntosh family took the approach that they needed to operate as a team to care for one another as well as Lonnie.

“We would hold family meetings to get things out,” said daughter Kara. “We needed to exercise patience with dad and patience with each other. It’s important to not feel guilty for needing time away.”

The family also realized the importance of learning from the experience of others. While each case of Alzheimer’s is unique, the changes the individual experiences and the adjustments the family must eventually make have a common thread. Connections to support groups through the Alzheimer’s Association helped provide Jan and her children with contacts with other caregivers – people who understand and can relate to the challenges they faced.

“It was good to hear from people in the support group who were ahead of us in the process,” said Jan. “Scary, but good.”

Sharing their experience

With a year of perspective on their experience as caregivers, the McIntosh family is looking to re-engage in the Alzheimer’s community in order to help others who are facing the same challenges.

“We want to help other people better understand this disease,” said Kara.

One of the important lessons they want to share is that the person living with Alzheimer’s should continue to be an involved member of the family.

“People can function for a long time with this disease,” said Jan. “There’s still life to be lived.”

That life should include as much social engagement as possible, not just sitting and watching television, Justin believes. “There should be a sense of normalcy, not just frustration.”

Lonnie and his family were active participants in programs for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Another lesson learned is that even while the loved one is alive, there will be grieving. And the grief does not end when the person passes away.

“I was grieving for a long time before he was actually gone,” said Justin. “There’s some relief (when death does finally come), but we’re still grieving.”

The importance of an early diagnosis

Finally, the McIntosh’s believe that other families should understand the benefit of receiving an early diagnosis for their loved one. While it doesn’t change the inevitable, it helps the family prepare and take advantage of educational programs and services, such as those offered at no charge by the Alzheimer’s Association.

“An earlier diagnosis would have helped us be more on the ball,” said Kara.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s Association educational programs and services, go to www.alz.org/co or call the Association’s free 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Alzheimer’s art on tour in Colorado Springs

A traveling art exhibit composed of watercolor paintings created by artists living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia will be on public display – and for sale – throughout the Colorado Springs area starting this month and through late October.

Every week, participants in the Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making® art program gather in supervised settings to create new watercolor paintings at residential care facilities and day programs throughout the region.

A distinguished panel of artists and jurors has selected 79 pieces of art from those sessions to be featured in this year’s Memories in the Making Traveling Art Show, which will be on display at eight regional locations starting with MacKenzie Place, 1605 Elm Creek View, Colorado Springs, from Aug. 21 to 25.

The original art is being offered for sale: 34 framed paintings available for $150 each and 45 other matted (unframed) paintings available for $40 each. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to support information, programs and services offered at no charge to Colorado families, as well as research to find a cure for the disease, the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

The value of the MIM experience

“Painting every week provides those with memory loss a place to feel a sense of purpose, to socialize with others, and engage in an activity that keeps brain cells firing,” said Betsy Cook, Memories in the Making art consultant for the Pikes Peak region. “Many have never painted before but are able to express thought and emotions when given this opportunity. The artist’s documented comments and memories become powerful tools that reassure family and caregivers that the essence of the individual is still there.”

Following is the Colorado Springs schedule for the MIM art show (during normal business hours):

  • Aug. 21 to 25 – MacKenzie Place
  • Aug. 27 to Sept. 1 – Morningstar at Mountain Shadows, 5355 Centennial Blvd.
  • Sept. 3 to 8 – New Dawn Memory Care, 4185 Briargate Pkwy.
  • Sept. 10 to 15 – Jackson Creek Senior Living, 16601 Jackson Creek Pkwy.
  • Sept. 17 to 22 – Springs Ranch Memory Care, 3315 Emmett View Dr.
  • Sept. 21 – Walk to End Alzheimer’s at America the Beautiful Park, 126 Cimino Dr. (limited exhibit)
  • Sept. 24 to 29 – Brookdale Skyline, 2365 Patriot Heights
  • Oct. 1 to 27 – Pikes Peak Library District/East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd.

The origins of Memories in the Making

What began in Colorado in 1994 as a pilot program at five sites, Memories in the Making (MIM) has grown to nearly 100 sites across the state. The MIM art groups meet in assisted-living communities, nursing homes and adult day programs throughout the state. The MIM groups are facilitated by staff and volunteers who are trained by the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Alzheimer’s Association has found that the MIM program provides a number of benefits to those with the disease, including:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • An outlet for emotions
  • Increased attention span and focus
  • Reduced isolation – an opportunity to socialize
  • Tapping into pockets of memory that still exist
  • Reconnecting families

Locations in the Pikes Peak region where the Alzheimer’s Association MIM art program is offered include: Bear Creek Senior Living, Bethesda Gardens (Monument), Brookdale Skyline, Colonial Columns, Daybreak Adult Day Program (Woodland Park), Genesis Pikes Peak Center, Jackson Creek (Monument), MacKenzie Place, Morningstar Bear Creek, Morningstar Mountain Shadows, New Dawn Memory Care, Springs Ranch Memory Care, Retreat at Sunny Vista, Sunrise at University Park and Voyages Adult Day Program. Information about the Memories in the Making program is available here (https://alz.org/co/helping_you/memories-in-the-making).

“Now it’s my turn” – a son’s view of being his dad’s caregiver

Tim Glennie wears many hats in a busy life. He’s managing partner of a company. He’s a community volunteer. He’s a husband. He’s a dad to three kids. He’s a family caregiver.

But this year is different. It’s Tim’s first year celebrating Father’s Day without his beloved dad, William (aka Bill, Barnacle Bill) Glennie, who passed away from Alzheimer’s disease late last year at age 86. It took 12 years for Alzheimer’s to run its course. Over that time, Tim learned a lot about the disease. He developed an understanding of the toll it takes on caregivers. And he learned about himself.

“I always looked at it as ‘my parents took care of me when I was young and now it is my turn,’” said Glennie, managing partner of BridgeView IT, a Denver-based staffing solutions firm. “I did deal with guilt if I felt I was not with him enough, but I learned that once he could no longer retain memories, that the visits were really for me. I had to make sure the visits were meaningful to me.”

As his dad’s dementia progressed, Tim helped move his parents to Denver so that he could provide more support to his mother. He called the Alzheimer’s Association free 24-hour Helpline to get assistance in finding good housing options for his dad as well as support for his mom.

“The people (at the Alzheimer’s Association) care so much,” said Tim. In fact, the process inspired him so thoroughly that he earned a spot on the Colorado Chapter’s board of directors, and he currently chairs the planning committee for the Denver Walk to End Alzheimer’s – the sixth-largest Alzheimer’s Walk in the nation.

Looking back on a challenging time

While a dozen years with Alzheimer’s disease stripped Bill Glennie of his memories, son Tim enjoys vivid recollections of his dad, both before the disease’s arrival and up until the very end.

“My favorite memory of my dad…he taught us to work and to work hard,” said Tim. “We learned the ideals that he wanted to pass on like the expectation of work for money and inspection of quality before we got paid. He was clear about what he wanted, but then he was generous in praise of our hard work.”

Tim also learned an important lesson about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects people differently – not just those with the diagnosis, but caregivers as well.

“I did have a family member who was reluctant to accept that dad had Alzheimer’s,” said Tim. “They would hold out hope that things might get better, maybe by changing medications or trying new techniques to stimulate the memory.”

As Tim observed his dad progress through Alzheimer’s, he came to the painful realization that the father he knew would never return.

“I had to mourn that the person I knew and loved was not himself, and he no longer knew who I was nor could he make new memories,” said Tim. “It is a painful step, but one that was helpful in me coming to peace with things after my dad passed away.”

Finding joy in the tragedy

But even in the latest stages of the disease, Tim and his family were able to find joy in their interactions with father and grandfather Bill. “One of the last times my family was around my dad was on his 86th birthday,” recalled Tim. “We brought doughnuts and coffee and he asked ‘why all the fuss.’ We told him it was his birthday. Dad asked how old he was and we said ’86.’ He laughed and said ‘I’m old.’ As those of you with a loved one with Alzheimer’s can appreciate, we got to enjoy this same question a few more times. And it never got old.”

Colorado seniors brew “Golden Age” beer for unique Alzheimer’s promotion

What are your post-retirement plans? For a group of seniors at Peakview Assisted Living and Memory Care in Centennial, those plans included creating their own German-style lager beer, dubbed “Golden Age,” as part of a special promotion to raise awareness and funds towards Alzheimer’s disease research.

Jean and Michele Verrier, owners of Pilothouse Brewing Company in Aurora, collaborated recently with seniors from Peakview on development of a new signature brew that will debut Saturday, June 8, for a summer-long “Peaks & Pints” promotion to benefit the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and raise funds to help eradicate the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease.

“A group of our residents had the unique and very enjoyable opportunity to work with the team at Pilothouse and create their own German-style lager beer they’ve named ‘Golden Age,’” said Kevin Otterness, sales director at Peakview Assisted Living and Memory Care. “Everyone here at Peakview and Pilothouse is super excited about this event and the cause behind it.”

Beyond creating a delicious new summertime refreshment, the collaboration between Pilothouse and Peakview will direct a portion of the sales of the beer throughout the summer to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We really enjoyed working with the residents of Peakview in brewing ‘Golden Age,’ a German-style Munich Helles, to benefit and support the Alzheimer’s Association,” said Jean and Michele Verrier of PilotHouse. “The residents of Peakview are both delightful and engaging to work with and have many wonderful stories to tell. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the many different styles of beer we serve at Pilothouse. We look forward to hosting Peaks & Pints with 50 percent of Golden Age sales to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.”

The first keg of Golden Age will be tapped at the unveiling event from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Pilothouse Brewing Company, 4233 S. Buckley Rd., Aurora.

Farewell to a Colorado Alzheimer’s pioneer

DeeAnn Groves became an Alzheimer’s caregiver out of necessity, but she remained one for decades out of compassion for those whose loved ones lived with the incurable disease.

For nearly 40 years, DeeAnn devoted her time, energy and resources to caring for those affected by Alzheimer’s. While caring for her own mother who was living with the disease, DeeAnn started Senior Resource Services in Greeley, which later evolved into the Northeastern Colorado office of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Over the years, DeeAnn established support groups for Alzheimer’s caregivers, adult children of dying parents, and Parkinson’s disease. In fact, she was active as an Alzheimer’s support group leader even in the week preceding her death in February of 2019 at age 85.

“I knew DeeAnn from the very beginning of my work with the Association in 1989,” said Linda Mitchell, longtime president and CEO of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “When our chapter started to expand statewide, she was very supportive of our first office and staff in Greeley.”

Mitchell, who served the Association for more than 25 years before her retirement at the end of 2016, credited DeeAnn for helping educate her about the needs of Alzheimer’s families.

“There could be no better Alzheimer’s advocate than DeeAnn,” said Mitchell. “She remained a tireless volunteer and advocate for the Alzheimer’s cause to the very end.”

Iora: Partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association in search of a cure

Iora Primary Care is focused on serving the healthcare needs of people ages 65 and older. Given the increasing risk of dementia as we age, that makes Iora’s connection with the Alzheimer’s Association a natural fit.

“When our patients and their loved ones have concerns, we complete a diagnostic workup, and then provide them with resources that address their functional and mental health needs, such as Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support groups,” said Weston Donaldson, Ph.D., behavioral health specialist at Iora.

A sponsor of the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday, Sept. 14, in Denver’s City Park, Iora will have a team of healthcare providers, health coaches, leadership members, patients and their families at the Walk to raise funds to support the education, programs and services of the Alzheimer’s Association, and to help find a cure for the disease.

An estimated one of every three senior citizens in the United States who pass away in a given year had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Only 16 percent of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments during routine health check-ups. This, in turn, forces caregivers to provide an estimated 18.5 billion hours of annual voluntary, unpaid care valued at nearly $234 billion dollars. 

“We are proud to sponsor an organization that envisions a world without Alzheimer’s disease,” said Donaldson. “Iora is equally focused on the same cause. Every one of our team members and employees is committed to helping people live their happiest, healthiest lives. Some of our patients are affected by dementia and our care teams search for ways to help with the symptoms. Beyond the services of a ‘traditional’ doctor’s office, we go above and beyond for these patients as we have interactive, social group activities, such SilverSneakers, knitting groups, meditation, healthy cooking and more, that help provide a sense of purpose and community involvement.”

When specifically looking at dementia care, Iora involves family and friends in devising care geared to the individual.

“We recognize that supporting a patient with memory concerns necessarily involves working with families and others in the patient’s life,” said Doug Golding, M.D., market medical director for Iora. “We work with all involved to help meet the patient’s goals through this life transition.”

To learn more about Iora Primary Care, go to: www.ioraprimarycare.com.

Family-run Morrell Printing wants to help Colorado families

Family-owned and operated Morrell Printing Solutions views itself as more than a business. It’s part of the Lafayette community.

So when long-time customer Paula Selland kept returning with printing projects related to her fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association, Morrell staff decided it was time to get on board.

Selland has a deeply personal commitment to the cause. Her mother, Marilyn Joy Selland, began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2004. Her formal diagnosis followed three years later, and she finally succumbed to the disease in February of 2017. Marilyn’s husband and caregiver, Ernie, passed away five months later of a broken heart.

Selland founded Team Joy as part of The Longest Day fundraising program of the Alzheimer’s Association, both to honor her parents and to raise awareness of a disease that is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure.

In support of Selland and Team Joy, the employees of Morrell Printing started their own fundraiser in 2018 and are continuing it this year, encouraging their customers to join in the effort to raise funds to support Alzheimer’s disease awareness, education, programs and research to find a cure.

“We are a family-run business started by my parents in 1975,” said Kristel Pierce, co-owner of the shop with her three brothers. “We are committed to supporting community activities. We got involved because of Paula and her story with her family. She is a good customer and friend of ours, so we wanted to show her support.”

Morrell Printing has created its own web page to support Team Joy. In addition, the company’s 15 employees (seven are part of the immediate family) wear The Longest Day shirts to help raise awareness, both of the disease and the fundraising initiative.

“The efforts of Morrell Printing and Paula Selland’s Team Joy are great examples of our community coming together to shine a light on the 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and the more than 16 million family members and friends providing their care,” said Kate Dochelli, development manager for The Longest Day in Colorado.

“The Longest Day is the Alzheimer’s Association’s fundraising event based on and around the summer solstice, June 21,”said Dochelli. “Advocates from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice – biking, hiking, playing bridge, swimming, knitting and more.”

Every 65 seconds, someone new in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease, which kills more people than breast and prostate cancers combined. More than 73,000 Coloradans are living with the disease among 47 million globally.

The Alzheimer’s Association provides disease information, education, programs and services to all Colorado families at no charge. It also is the world’s largest non-profit funder of research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals seeking information or support can call the Association’s free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. It is staffed by trained professional counselors. Information is also available at www.alz.org/co.

Alzheimer’s disease: it’s personal at Vizient

This is the third year that employees from the Centennial office of healthcare performance improvement firm Vizient, Inc., will be having fun and raising funds to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s a company initiative that was driven by one person’s commitment.

“This effort has morphed from personal to office-wide,” said Jason Pettis, infrastructure engineer for Vizient and spokesman for the company team. “The father of Kathy Eckert (Vizient’s Operations Project director) passed away with Alzheimer’s,” which motivated her to engage with the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and raise funds for The Longest Day.

“The Longest Day is the Alzheimer’s Association’s second signature fundraising event based on and around the summer solstice, June 21,” said Kate Dochelli, development manager for The Longest Day in Colorado. “Advocates from across the world come together to participate in The Longest Day to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice – biking, hiking, playing bridge, swimming, knitting and more – to shine a light on the 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and the more than 16 million family members and friends providing their care.”

Last year, more than 25 Vizient staff in Colorado each conducted their own individual activities to raise funds for The Longest Day, and then gathered for a day of fun, including hiking, biking, tai chi and games with friends, family and coworkers. Collectively they raised more than $7,000 to support Alzheimer’s Association educational programs, services, and research to find a cure for the sixth-leading cause of death of people in the United States.

“Vizient’s involvement in The Longest Day helps create awareness,” said Pettis, who also has a family connection to the disease. “It’s a quiet disease. Bringing exposure to it gets people talking and creates awareness in the community of resources available through the Alzheimer’s Association.”

Pettis noted that people who have Alzheimer’s disease in their family have a tendency to look inward, believing that “no one could possibly understand or know” what they’re experiencing.

“People need to feel more comfortable reaching out for help,” he said.

Vizient’s The Longest Day fundraising goal for 2019 is to top $10,000 – and to help find a cure for the only major disease without a prevention, treatment or cure. To support Vizient’s The Longest Day team, click here.

Report on heart risk for Americans raises Alzheimer’s concerns

A report issued this week with estimates that 121 million U.S. adults are living with cardiovascular disease raises significant concerns about a related risk: Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The report issued by the American Heart Association notes that nearly half of all U.S. adults have some form of heart or blood pressure disease. The vast majority of those include high blood pressure, which recent research has proven creates an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Journal of the American Medical Association on Jan. 28, 2019, published the results of the SPRINT MIND study, “Effect of Intensive vs. Standard Blood Pressure Control on Probable Dementia,” which showed that intensive medical treatment to reduce blood pressure can significantly reduce the occurrence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a known risk factor for dementia.

“Everyone who experiences dementia passes through MCI,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “What is good for the heart is good for the brain and, conversely, if we don’t take care of our heart, we are putting our brain and our mental health at an unnecessary risk.”

The SPRINT MIND study was the first randomized clinical trial of its kind, and it found a 19 percent reduction in risk of MCI when the systolic blood pressure goal was lower than 120 mm Hg. versus a standard care strategy target of 140 mm Hg. It was led by Dr. Jeff Williamson from Wake Forest University.

Because of the success of the original SPRINT MIND study, the Alzheimer’s Association recently announced it is providing seed funding for a two-year extension of the trial to expand the trial’s base and increase the follow-up and assessment, allowing for a more definitive statement on reducing risk of dementia.

The Association also has launched a parallel two-year clinical trial, U.S. POINTER, which will evaluate whether lifestyle interventions can protect cognitive function in older adults at risk for cognitive decline. Those interventions include physical exercise, nutritional counseling and modification, cognitive and social stimulation, and improved self-management of health status.

“While the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way in research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, these studies are essential because they show that there are steps that each and every one of us can take to reduce our risk of cognitive decline,” said Schafer. “The implications, both in terms of improved quality of life as well as reducing healthcare costs, are enormous.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research. The Association currently has more than $160 million invested in over 450 active projects in 25 countries around the world.