Every day, people make the trip to the City by the Bay, my beloved San Francisco, to see the sights or enjoy a culinary delight. Today, Sunday, November, 6, I am at Pier 27, not to board a cruise ship to some far-off destination, but to prepare to walk for a cause for which a cure has been long overdue. I’m here for the annual SF Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its vision is “A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.” Worldwide, 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. You may not know that dementia is not a specific disease but is a term defined by a group of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that leads to dementia symptoms which gradually worsen.
Signs and symptoms
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are ten early signs and symptoms that could be a warning and if you experience any of them, they suggest scheduling an appointment to discuss them with your doctor. Please do not just read the list and panic. Download this worksheet which explains each.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words when speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
My hope is that knowing these signs will be helpful, either for you or someone you know. Early detection can get needed services in place to manage symptoms.
But, my mission today is to raise awareness and funds to provide services to those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, support for their caregivers, and research to find a cure. Before we walk, I will lead the warmup to shake off the chilly San Francisco morning and get hundreds of walkers pumped and ready for their stroll along the Embarcadero.
We all know someone who has or has been affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Twice a week, at one of our local senior living facilities, I lead a chair Zumba class. Many of the participants are from the memory care section. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve seen dementia take its toll in many, and in all sorts of ways.
M was gregarious and LOUD. She would always say, “Honey, I love it when you come, and we get to dance.” She would flirt with the male staff and her booming laugh would fill the room. Now, two years later, M can no longer speak. Maybe an occasional grunt—if she doesn’t throw a fit—when they bring her to dance with me. On rare occasions, she will smile and hum, but usually not.
J was a dancer all her life. Each time I would visit, she would remind me, and we would discuss dance. A year later, J says to me each time she enters the room, “I love it when you come.” She has never once remembered my name, and we don’t converse about dance any longer. She has trouble carrying on a conversation, but J is still a dancer to me.
L is J’s gentleman friend. He used to always pull her seat out and then take his seat next to her to participate. He would watch her adoringly, and sometimes they would touch hands and exchange smiles mid-song. Now, he doesn’t always participate—except for tapping his feet to the music. Sometimes they don’t even sit next to each other. They occasionally come in, as they always did before, acting like lovestruck teenagers, but those times are fewer and fewer.
Most of my friends from memory care don’t remember me and each time ask what will be doing, but when the music starts, they remember all the moves and sing the songs while we dance. My heart fills to know that I’ve woken that part of their brain and brought them joy. If I could though, I would restore each one’s treasure chest of memories and unique and special personality. Stop dreaming? Never.
Consider donating to the SF Walk to End Alzheimer’s
By the time you read this, I will have completed this year’s walk, but the fundraising still continues. Please consider making a donation of any size using my team link: http://act.alz.org/goto/danztoendalz.
These flowers represent the fight to end Alzheimer’s; blue is for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, yellow is for those who live with or support someone, orange for those that want to see a world without Alzheimer’s or dementia, purple for those that have lost a loved one. What you don’t see, what I walk for… is the white flower. That flower will represent those that have survived Alzheimer’s!
Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or FitnessByDsign.com. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Denise-Lum.