Many of you know at least one person living with Alzheimer's disease or some other type of dementia-a grandmother, grandfather, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, associate, partner or spouse. You may also work in an environment that supports individuals and their families on their journeys with these brain disorders.
No matter who you are or where you work, I want you to know you are not alone. There are millions dedicated to playing their part, including researchers who focus tirelessly on how to reduce the risks, all with the hope that we will be able to manage or eradicate these disorders one day. Just when that day will arrive, however, completely depends on us-on our desire, drive, funding, and ability to ask and answer needed questions until we come to that point.
In the meantime, my 106-year-old grandmother has dementia.
Merle O'Hara was born in 1912. In that year, more than 1,500 souls lost their lives in the North Atlantic when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank; the Republic of China was formally established; Arizona and New Mexico became part of the Union; and Tokyo's mayor gave 3,000 cherry trees to plant in Washington, DC, a symbol of friendship between nations. A lifetime later, dementia challenges my grandmother and my family. As it does millions of older adults and their loved ones worldwide-perhaps your family as well.
In my family, we feel fortunate that my grandmother had more than 100 years of clarity, so she could share her life experience. She lived through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and the Second World War. Imagine all that she has seen-from changes in clothing, music, automobiles and housing, to the advent of television, space flight, computers and cell phones. She met and married the love of her life, my grandfather Benny, losing him to cancer nearly 40 years ago. She also mourned the deaths of her mother, her father, her two sisters and, at a tragically young age, her brother. Yet, she has always been young in spirit ("I still feel 18," she says), and enjoyed time with her daughter, grandkids and great-grandchildren.
My grandmother has lived the kind of life that we at ICAA promote and I personally aspire to. Her positive attitude and outlook has combined with her curiosity and kindness to disarm even the most negative individuals in her path. Her resilience is a testament to how she has lived.
Now, when I visit her in nursing care, my grandmother sees me, embraces me and speaks to me, but does not necessarily know who I am. I have been her husband, father and brother; my father, his brother, my brother, and finally myself. There are days she tells me she's waiting for a bus to take her to Spanish Town, a city in her home country of Jamaica. Amid struggles to communicate and confusion, she has moments of clarity and occasional tears. But, through it all, she remains an upbeat, sociable person, who happens to have unpredictable mood swings and a need to keep on the move.
For me and for increasing numbers of active-aging colleagues, dementia is not just a professional concern-it's a personal one. That's why the International Council on Active Aging has pledged to help combat Alzheimer's disease by raising USD$100,000 for The Longest Day, the Alzheimer's Association event taking place June 21, 2019. (To learn more, please visit alz.org/ICAA)
We hope you will join our Longest Day efforts. By uniting as a team, we can all have a bigger impact than any one person or organization alone. Let’s work together to make the world a better place by supporting hope for our loved ones, our families, our clients and the millions more like us who live with dementia and its challenges-and hope for a future where no one does.
Colin Milner, CEO
International Council on Active Aging®
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