Today, on The Longest Day, I will fight to end Alzheimer’s for 14 hours, 26 minutes and 24 seconds.
I woke up at 4 a.m. PST to prepare to honor my father, Hans, who is living with dementia, by paddling in the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, California. I will paddle in a 4-mile loop from sunrise to sunset (exactly 5:45 a.m. to 8:12 p.m.) to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer's Association care, support and research through The Longest Day, an event which raises awareness and funds to support the work of the Alzheimer’s Association on the summer solstice.
Having participated in long distance paddleboard races in the U.S. and Europe, I know my day will be long, but it will not compare to the long road that is Alzheimer’s and other dementia, which families affected by these diseases face each and every day.
It was five years ago when my family back in Switzerland began to sense that something was wrong with my father, who was then 71 years old. Dad has always been known as the talker, the entertainer, the guy everyone would gravitate to when he entered the room. In big groups, Dad was THE guy.
Then my mom and brother started noticing that Dad would get quiet in rooms of people, remove himself from social activity, or fall completely silent when everyone else was talking. This was unlike him, but my family knew that Dad’s own mom had passed away with dementia, something that had taken away her ability to recognize him. It was brutal to witness, and we knew that the same disease may be affecting Dad.
Now based in California, when my next visit to Switzerland was approaching, my brother warned me that our father was different, that he wasn’t going to be the father I knew. Keeping in touch via FaceTime and phone calls, I prepared myself for how different Dad would be.
When Dad was formally diagnosed with dementia, I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I wanted to help from a distance. My mom is now supporting my dad as his primary caregiver, and my brother lives locally with his wife, a nurse, and their children, a big part of my mom’s support system. As the past five years have flown by, and Dad’s disease has progressed, my family knows where this road will lead. And we are fighting it together.
Paddlers Going Purple
From across the world, I keep my dad and my entire family close to my heart by honoring them today. My ultimate goal? Using my passion for paddleboarding to help reduce the stigma surrounding Alzheimer's disease.
The company I work for provided a list of ways to get involved in their yearly charity challenge, and as I went through the list, the Alzheimer’s Association jumped right out at me. I immediately knew that The Longest Day was the perfect fit for me, exactly what I wanted to do! I paddleboard race across the U.S. and even in Europe/The Netherlands, and I am part of the stand-up paddleboard race community, which is small, but very socially active. As I started posting about my event in social media groups, fellow paddlers started reaching out, saying that they wanted to paddle alongside me for part of the day. There is even someone in Switzerland who will be participating for the entire 14 hours in support of this fight!
As I was planning my event, I called my mom to see what she thought about me spreading awareness, which would include publicizing my father’s disease, something my family kept quiet about at the beginning. I was glad that she was excited to see that I was taking action in Dad’s name, and that I had her support. My raising awareness through The Longest Day is my way of getting off the sidelines to make a difference for all of my family back in my hometown.
Today, The Longest Day
The stigma around Alzheimer’s cannot outshine the love we have for our families affected by this disease. Today I paddle for all my family in Switzerland. It brings me joy to know that my mom is pleased with how I have told our story through social media, sharing my progress for The Longest Day, and raising the most important thing of all – awareness of Alzheimer's disease. If one person sees my posts, or this blog, and is inspired to open up to tell their own story, then I have done what I set out to do. I encourage families to summon all their courage to open up in order to get the help and support they need.
Today, my dad is 76 years old. He needs my mom to help care for him in all ways, from placing signs around the house to indicate where rooms are, to consoling him when he experiences sundowning and hallucinations. She helps him eat, and brush his teeth. She is my caregiving hero. Despite all we are faced with, Mom has retained her sense of humor, saying: “I will keep Dad around as long as he recognizes me as his wife.” Dad is able to joke, too; humor is definitely one of the ways they face his disease together.
Today, I go purple with pride, wearing my The Longest Day shirt on the water as my wife and older son look on and others paddle with me in California and in other locations around the world. I paddle for my dad, for my grandmother, for my family, and for a future without Alzheimer's disease.
About: Juerg Geser works for Deckers Brands, and learned about The Longest Day through their yearly “Be Good, Do Good” charity challenge. He is currently training for a September paddleboarding race in Holland which covers 130 miles over five days. Juerg lives in Santa Barbara, California with his family and is involved with the California Central Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Follow his paddleboarding adventures on Instagram and visit his The Longest Day page.