A community educator, a Walk to End Alzheimer’s committee member, an Alzheimer’s advocate in the state of Kentucky: Barbara Staats is all of these things. Read how she continues to make a difference as a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of her late husband Al.
My husband and I were living a great life as retirees in Florida. We traveled, were active in our church, had lots of friends, and lived close enough to my mom that we saw her a few times a week. But in October 2008, our lives changed forever, when Al’s neurologist confirmed what I had suspected – Al had Alzheimer’s disease.
We immediately took action, learning as much about this devastating disease as we could. We then worked to educate others, something I have continued to do for the past 10 years.
By becoming a volunteer Alzheimer’s community educator, I found my niche. I give Alzheimer’s Association presentations about the 10 Warning Signs, Effective Communication, Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Living with Alzheimer’s for Caregivers, The Healthy Body and Brain and more.
There is no better feeling than seeing the understanding in someone’s eyes during an education session. When this happens, I know that one more person has learned a little bit about Alzheimer’s and other dementia. And, hopefully, they can face this disease with a little more patience and grace.
As a member of my Walk To End Alzheimer’s committee for two years in a row, I have seen how the event brings people from all walks of life together. The promise garden ceremony is so powerful – flowers carried and ‘planted’ by caregivers, people living with the disease, and other supporters. Just like flowers that fight to emerge from the ground in spring, participants keep raising funds and awareness for those they love and will not be deterred from their goal!
Both Al and I participated as volunteer advocates as well. We spoke to our state legislators on Advocacy Day in Frankfort, Kentucky – he from the perspective of a person living with Alzheimer’s, and me, from a caregiver’s perspective.
Caring for Al for nearly a decade after his diagnosis was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I had to learn how to take care of Al and his safety and yet allow him to do as much as possible so he could maintain his self-respect and independence.
Getting help is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
This disease can be so hard for family caregivers. Due to my stress levels and lack of sleep, I had a stroke in 2016. Although I made a full recovery, I knew that I needed to find full-time memory care for Al.
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about the mistakes you may make or the hard decisions you need to face as a caregiver. You are doing the best you can. You can’t take care of your loved one unless you are taking care of yourself. Keep those important doctor appointments. Don’t put them off.
I was blessed to have two sets of friends who visited with Al one day a week each so that I could take care of me – go to a doctor appointment, get a massage, go to lunch with a friend. Getting help and support are so important.
As a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association, I want others facing this disease to continue to live life to the fullest as long as possible. We continued to travel until Al couldn’t. We participated in gatherings with family and friends and entertained guests in our home. We cried together and we laughed together.
Remember those old photo albums stuck away in the closet? Maybe it is time to get them out and laugh and smile with your loved one over pleasant memories.
And speaking of memories, you will continue to make them right up until the point your loved one passes. One of my favorite memories was when I laid down in Al’s hospital bed with him, listening to classical music. When I looked up at him, he would have a slight smile on his lips. I knew he was at peace and that we had been able to get through this together.
I continue to volunteer and to fight for Al and for all of those affected by this disease. I hope you will join me so that we can all live in a future world without Alzheimer’s.
We thank all of our passionate volunteers for the work they do every day! Interested in getting involved? Learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association.
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