How far would you go to end Alzheimer’s disease? Some climb over 14,000 feet. Others paint. Cindy Reagan likes to go the extra mile. This year, it’s 350 miles. To be precise: the Camino Portuguese pilgrimage from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago, Spain.
This Parker resident, who also has volunteered in the Colorado Chapter’s Memories in the Making (MIM) program for the past 10 years, walks in memory of her mother and in honor of the MIM artists who inspire and occasionally counsel her.
Her departure on July 9 will mark the third pilgrimage that Cindy has undertaken to raise funds for and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. Her first, in 2012, followed a longer route through Spain that covered 500 miles. Then, in 2016, she discovered the “more relaxed” 350-mile route through Portugal that gives her more time to converse with fellow travelers from around the world, and to educate them about Alzheimer’s resources.
“I was surprised to meet people in 2016 who had no idea that there were resources so readily available to them in their own country and their own language,” Cindy said. “I was making a name for myself on the Camino as people heard me talking about Alzheimer’s.”
This year, Cindy has a $3,000 fundraising goal for her journey, and she is going armed with information about global Alzheimer’s resources with information for fellow pilgrims from the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Sweden and other nations she expects to encounter.
Cindy met Ana from Sweden on her last trek. Ana had heard of Cindy from other pilgrims, and they shared a meal in a café.
“She told me that her father had (Alzheimer’s),” Cindy said. “We talked and she cried. It was a meaningful visit, and it made the remaining miles much easier.”
Later, another women approached Cindy and mentioned that she’d overheard her conversation with Ana.
“She left saying that today was the day she was walking for her mother,” she said. “Pretty emotional stuff.”
Motivated to undertake a pilgrimage
Cindy’s motivation for her long-distance travels comes from two sources. First, she saw her own mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 62. Both Cindy and her father took advantage of free classes and information from the Alzheimer’s Association to help them better understand what the disease was doing to their loved one.
“My dad did it right because of all the information he learned in those classes,” Cindy said. “I think it made it easier for him because he was able to understand what was best for my mom. He is my great example of what those education and support classes can do for a caregiver.”
Cindy advises that caregivers take advantage of Alzheimer’s Association programs because they help people better anticipate the challenges the disease will pose.
“My advice to everyone going through this would be to take advantage of all these resources,” she said. “It can literally give them a longer life that is more accepting, more at peace and less guilt-ridden.”
The MIM connection
In 2008, Cindy reconnected with the Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer with the Memories in the Making (MIM) art program that enables persons with dementia to express their unspoken or recessed memories through drawing. Today, she works weekly with three different classes at the Tech Center, Greenwood Village and Lowry.
“It’s hard to not get attached to a lot of the artists,” she said. “I tend to forget that it’s a terminal disease and their deaths are very difficult.”
Cindy mentioned one interaction with an artist that left a deep impression on her.
“I’ve learned that a lot of the wisdom of the MIM artists’ own life experiences can still be there,” she said. “I sat with a woman a few days before she died and she wanted to know more about me. I told her about a situation I was having with my son. She told me bluntly how to handle it, which was hard to take! I did though, and it’s worked ever since!”
How MIM helps the artists
With 10 years’ experience working with the MIM artists, Cindy has come to appreciate the benefits that the artists derive from the process of tapping their recessed memories to create art.
“I worked very closely with a woman who would come to the group somewhat down but would immediately start an incredible painting,” said Cindy. “Her pieces of inspiration would eventually take shape as a memory. One day she came in with a smile on her face and, as always, sat down and painted a picture of the mountains with a sunrise. After she was finished, she talked for an hour about how she could now paint a sun because a man’s load had been lifted off of her shoulders and she was now carrying just a woman’s load.”
Cindy was touched when the woman said she “was free.” Her family could see the change in the woman, but they didn’t know the details of the story.
“This is why MIM works,” Cindy said. “It can give an artist clarity of memories that may never have come to light if they weren’t painting. I can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices when their painting becomes a reality to them. Art is magical!”