Call our 24 hours, seven days a week helpline at 800.272.3900

24/7 Helpline 800.272.3900
Change Location

A Colorado family comes together for Mom

A Colorado family comes together for Mom
Share or Print this page
Share or Print this page
April 12, 2022
Share or Print this page
Kelly-Gardner-mom.JPGKelly Gardner and her mom, Kay Schwalm, have always been best friends. They’ve worked together, started their own business, vacationed in tandem and spent countless hours together. They still see one another almost every day, only it’s not the same. Kay recalls very little of those memories, or even Kelly’s last visit. She has advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Along with her brothers David and Michael, Kelly grew up in Johnstown on her grandfather’s feedlot – the largest in Larimer County at the time. Kelly was particularly close with her mom, who watched Kelly’s three sons while Kelly worked. The pair opened their own in-home daycare center at one point, and later worked for the same Windsor insurance agency.

“If we weren’t working, we were typically off doing something together,” said Kelly. “We were truly each other’s best friend.”

Noticing changes
Mother and daughter’s idyllic life began to change around 2014. At age 71, Kay began showing signs of memory loss, repeating herself frequently. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis followed, and the changes in Kelly’s mom progressed. Simple decisions became tough. Anxiety attacks led to ER visits. Kay would flash anger unexpectedly.

As caring for Kay became more challenging, her husband, Ken, conferred with the family before moving her into assisted living at The Greeley Village. Kelly visits every day at lunch, sometimes joined by 13-year-old son Markus, who is a popular visitor for his grandma and other residents.

“There is little reminiscing anymore,” said Kelly. “Those long-term memories have faded away. I find it hard to carry a conversation because we no longer have any recent experiences to reflect on. I just try my best every day to love her and support her the way she did for me for so many years.”

Concern for her family
Her mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis gives Kelly pause for several reasons. Kay is not the first or only person in the family to develop dementia. Kelly’s aunt and uncle both passed away from the disease. And her husband, Mike, has seen the disease in both his father and grandmother.

“I have looked at my three kids and thought ‘which one of you is going to take care of me?’,” she wondered. “A stab of fear does go through me when I can’t think of a word or a name or forget something that years ago I may not have. And I’m very concerned that it will be something that my kids will develop.”

Lessons learned
Her family’s extensive experience with Alzheimer’s has given Kelly and her siblings some hard-earned lessons.

“My best advice for someone who has a loved one who has been diagnosed is to talk about it a lot,” she said.  “Let them express how they're feeling and what they are most concerned about. If they understand that an assisted living facility may be in their future, it will reduce the stress you feel when it comes time to make that decision.”

Kelly has also participated in several Alzheimer’s Association programs. It seems that those who have traveled the same path have the deepest understanding of the challenges posed by dementia.

“It is such a cruel and mocking disease,” she said. “I have gone to the Association’s website ( and group chats many times to see how others are dealing with their loved ones.  While the situation is typically sad it does help knowing that you're not alone.”

Turning fear into action on The Longest Day
Kelly and her brothers have made a conscious decision to take the offense when it comes to Alzheimer’s. They have chosen the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event (June 18) as an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of their mom and raise money to help find a cure for the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. that affects 6.5 million Americans, including 76,000 Coloradans.

The trio, who own Black Mountain Bison, will be hosting a pig roast and silent auction at their farm in Johnstown to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research.

“What has inspired me to participate in the Alzheimer's Association is the knowledge of what it takes financially to care for someone suffering from the disease,” Kelly said. “The numbers are real and they are scary.  I know there are people who aren't able to take care of their loved ones properly because they don't have the financial means to do it.  I hope our efforts will provide some assistance to others so that they can care for their loved ones like they deserve to be cared for.”

To participate in the Black Mountain Bison Longest Day Event on Saturday, June 18, click here. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, go to or call the free 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.

Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™ For more information, visit or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.

Keep Up With Alzheimer’s News and Events

The first survivor of Alzheimer's is out there, but we won't get there without you.

Donate Now

Learn how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain.

Take the Brain Tour

Don't just hope for a cure. Help us find one. Volunteer for a
clinical trial.

Learn More