Recently I walked in two of the seven Walk to End Alzheimer’s events in Southeastern Wisconsin. The purpose of the walks is to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and funds for research and care and support programs provided by the Alzheimer’s Association.
The speaker at the Waukesha County Walk at Frame Park in Waukesha was Mike Grassel. He was there with his wife Julie at his side. Mike is truly an inspiration to everyone at the Association. Mike was involved in a catastrophic automobile accident in his college years more than 25 years ago. His life has been changed because of it. Today Mike is 48 years old and lives with his wife Julie. He struggles with dementia caused by the accident, yet he still continues to work with support from his employer, Walgreens in Brookfield. Mike and Julie have two loving, supportive adult children. The crowd was energized and hopeful as he shared his story to the 1300 people that turned out for the Waukesha Walk.
John Brandt was the speaker for the 20th annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Milwaukee County, hosted at Mount Mary University. John was supported on-stage by his lovely wife Peggy and 5-time Olympic gold medalist, Bonnie Blair, who was our Celebrity Walker. The Alzheimer’s Association is a cause that has been near and dear to Bonnie for over a decade. Her mother also struggled with dementia. John is now 73 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. John and Peggy have three children that live out of state and as he mentioned in his speech he wishes that they lived closer to him. John’s symptoms became noticeable approximately 4-5 years ago prior to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2012. He was often forgetful and sometimes moody and wasn’t able to follow conversations. Peggy suggested that they see a doctor. John was scared and told himself that the symptoms would go away. He felt angry and didn’t want to hear that something might be wrong. During a visit, his daughter noted the change in his behavior. Before she left, she encouraged her Dad to see a doctor. John started to realize that he was having problems managing finances and performing stocking duties at Menards, where he was employed. This time when Peggy encouraged him to see the doctor, he agreed to go. His primary care physician suggested that see a specialist in memory issues. This was a real break-through for John.
Both Mike and John are Champions of Olympic proportions. They are not afraid to talk about living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and they want to break the stigmas associated with it. I am proud to say they are my friends. Today, both John and Mike, and their wives are part of the early-stage support group at the Alzheimer’s Association. John initially didn’t want to go, but now the group is like his second family. I am part of this group and I agree… the members and support group leaders are like family to me as well. The early-stage support group is just one of the care and support programs offered by the Alzheimer’s Association for individuals living with the disease and their caregivers. As John pointed out to more than 2500 folks that attended the Milwaukee Walk, the dollars raised by the Walk to End Alzheimer’s not only supports these wonderful programs, but also helps fund research and provides heightened awareness of the disease within the general public.
John felt honored to be a speaker at the walk and said it was an experience he will never forget. I feel honored to write a Blog for the Alzheimer’s Association. It is a creative way to express my feelings about living with Alzheimer’s disease, and also express my gratitude for the love and support that the Association continues to provide for us, our caregivers and family.
~Barbara Cheek Johnson is a journalist living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease~