Jen Dow’s mother Barb was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s at age 55. She’d been showing some signs of the disease for a couple of years before her diagnosis.
“I was 18,” Jen says. “I was just getting ready to start my life and here’s my mom, who taught me everything, and she can’t do the things she used to.”
As Jen worked through college, graduated and went through nursing school, she and her father took care of Barb at home throughout her illness.
“I tried to devote those years to my mom because I knew I had the rest of my life,” she says.
During those years, Jen learned to make the time she had with her family count, advice she says is important for anyone who loves someone with dementia.
“Take it one day at a time,” she says. “Cherish every moment because tomorrow they could be gone or they could just not remember who you are.”
One day, as she was looking through the Pennysaver, Jen saw an ad from a family thanking the donors who had given money to their Walk team. And she decided to pull a group together to walk in her mother’s honor.
Jen and her family formed Barb’s Babes for the 1999 Walk in Mendon. Barb walked with them that first year but her disease was progressing quickly. Barb was unable to walk with the team again before she died in 2004.
Over the years, Barb’s Babes has raised thousands of dollars. In addition to soliciting donations from their friends and family, the team would hold a yard sale each year, selling items that Jen’s father, an antiques dealer, had accumulated. The first sale brought in $300 for the team. By 2008, the sale raised $7,000.
That was the last year the team did the sale. But Jen says she and her core team — her two aunts, her cousin and her best friend — are considering a spaghetti dinner or other event to help raise money this year for the Mendon Walk.
“It makes me feel good to know I’m helping people who are going through what I’ve been through,” she says.
Jen knows her parents are proud of her and the work she’s done to raise awareness.
And, she says, the Walk does more than just bring attention to Alzheimer’s and raise money. Jen says it reminds people that they are not alone with this disease.
“It’s comforting to be there and know there are other people going through the same thing,” she says.