To tell of coping with disease, let's start in middle

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Where do I start? It's a question that most of us ask more than once in our lifetime. It may stem from a newly discovered goal, a desire to further our education, daunting task or a change in one of life's seasons. Most times we choose to ask "where do I start?"...but there are times when something unexpected enters our life and we find ourselves screaming, "Where do I start?"


I most recently experienced "Where do I start?" when asked to be a guest columnist. I knew why I had been asked, but the question plagued me for weeks. Do I start with the facts and figures of Alzheimer's disease in this country, or better yet, the state of Washington? Do I start with my own story and why I am so passionate for sharing all the aspects of the Alzheimer's Association-Inland Northwest Chapter? Do I start with immediate needs ... when, how early to seek a professional diagnosis or where to start the journey? I have chosen to start in the middle, because that's where my journey found the pieces to make dealing with Alzheimer's easier; at times rewarding, but most importantly livable, survivable.

My husband of 31 years was officially diagnosed with vascular dementia/Alzheimer's disease in 2002. Education over the past seven years has provided that all too familiar window of hindsight, coupled with its companion denial. Denial closed many windows of opportunity to diagnose and deal with the early stages of the disease, additionally taking its toll on the physical and emotional health of our family. Relationships were stretched to the maximum, a result of lack of knowledge, delayed diagnosis and acceptance of the disease.

Thirty years of selling real estate in the Walla Walla Valley taught me the importance of relationships and location-location-location. More than 15 years of dealing with dementia it has taught me the importance of relationships and education-education-education. Alzheimer's education was my middle starting point.

The Alzheimer's Association-Inland Northwest Chapter consists of 25 counties. Everyone living in these counties is a member of the chapter already, based on residency. The Inland Northwest Chapter, like sister chapters throughout the U.S., offers a wide range of resources to aid individuals through their journey, dealing with Alzheimer's disease. These resources include a 24/7 caregiver helpline (1-800-272-3900) maintained by trained professionals, local support groups, Alzheimer's information sources (a library of DVDs, books and information material's), MedicAlert + Safe Return program along with the new Comfort Zone program, state and federal advocacy, conferences and educational training. Most of these services are offered for free. Education is a primary focus.

The Walla Walla Valley was fortunate to recently have had Teepa Snow visit to present the latest skills in providing effective hands-on help and understanding of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The local chapter partnered with the local Aging Long Term Care office in bringing Snow to its 13th annual conference. She is a renowned speaker with incredible presentation skills, making an emotional topic, energy charged and easier to learn about. I can say with confidence that not one of the approximate 200 attendees went away wishing they had been somewhere else.

And David Troxel, a 1978 Whitman College graduate, along with Virginia Bell, co-developed the Best Friends model of dementia care. Through his work and writings he shares the knowledge that people with dementia live in a world that can be frustrating and frightening. The person with dementia does not always understand what is happening to them, or around them. He teaches the "knack" of good care. The local chapter was able to bring Troxel to the Tri-Cities in partnership with The Neurological Resource Center, an additional educational piece that was available for area residents.

My heart has been devoted to bring awareness of the services and programs that are offered through our chapter.

I spent many years feeling alone on my journey, when all along these services were available to me. Somehow I missed the opportunity that was "right next door." Once I learned about the chapter, its resources and educational programs, I met Joel Loiacono, the chapter's executive director. He was born and raised in Walla Walla, and for more than 13 years has traveled back to the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, presenting a variety of educational pieces.

When the opportunity arose for the local chapter to hirer an additional outreach coordinator, I was willing and ready to be trained. I now represent the chapter as the Southeastern Washington outreach coordinator. I am available, along with the entire staff, to provide information, resources and to make the journey with your loved one an easier process.

Being pro-active through education is the first step in "Where do I start?" I can be contacted at debbi.pierce@alz.org or (509)713-3390 or you can gain information at www.alz.org/inlandnorthwest and sign up for our quarterly newsletter. Until next time Remember you are not alone on this journey.

A Reason to Hope appears the fourth Wednesday of each month. Debbi Pierce, Southeastern Washington outreach coordinator for Alzheimer's Association-Inland Northwest Chapter, can be reached at debbi.pierce@alz.org or 509-713-3390.


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