Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Sometimes it’s tough to tell who has it worse, the person living with dementia or the family members who serve as their devoted caregivers.
For Colleen Beauvais of Pueblo, a first-grade teacher at Sunset Park Elementary School, the hardest part of the Alzheimer’s journey has been watching the decline of both of her parents since they were diagnosed 5 years ago at age 78. She cared for both parents, Mary Ann and George Beauvais, in their home until this summer, when both took a turn for the worse.
“I had been able to keep them home, safe and happy, until my dad fell this summer,” Colleen said. “This summer, my dad was hospitalized three times and had to go to a nursing home for long-term care as he no longer remembers how to walk. And my mother was hospitalized this summer and has declined significantly since then. She now requires 24-hour care from a combination of outside services and family.”
A caregiver break
After five years of around-the-clock care, Colleen decided to take a “caregiver break” and get a change of scenery this summer, but her heart wouldn’t let her wander far from the cause. Accompanied by her closest friend, Nicole VanDeMark, Colleen decided to visit several special, spiritual places and offer prayers for her parents.
“We created our own experience and took it on the road,” Colleen said. “We went to the stations of the cross in San Luis, New Mexico, and took my parents’ (Alzheimer’s) mile marker with us as a way to show how we were honoring the Walk to End Alzheimer’s this year.”
Colleen and Nicole wore their Walk to End Alzheimer’s shirts and masks all day. After the visit to San Luis, they did a labyrinth in Taos and again put up their mile marker and used their pennies to wish for a cure.
On the third leg, the pair journeyed to the Santuario De Chimayo Chapel in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, known for its holy dirt said to have healing properties.
“We prayed and cried and shared a beautiful time together thinking about the people we love,” said Colleen. “This day was all planned by my best friend who takes such good care of me.”
The “new” Walk to End Alzheimer’s
In addition to a break from the stress of caregiving, Colleen used the pilgrimage as her own personal Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year, recognizing the challenges created by coronavirus, every participant in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is taking a personal path. Colleen’s and Nicole’s three-part pilgrimage served as their unique Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
“This is our second year (in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s) and we were really looking forward to walking again this year,” Colleen said. “Last year was very emotional for me and I didn't get to fully take in the whole experience, but I was looking forward to seeking out more resources this year. I'm really interested in studies to make sure I don't get it (Alzheimer’s) since both of my parents have it.”
An estimated 6 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s, including 76,000 Coloradans. Like Colleen, there are an estimated 256,000 Coloradans serving as unpaid caregivers for loved ones living with the disease.
Colleen has participated in an Alzheimer’s Association live webinar on late-stage Alzheimer’s, and talked to staff about options of care for both of her parents.
“Talking to someone (at the Alzheimer’s Association) was very helpful and comforting,” she said.
The Pueblo and Denver Walks to End Alzheimer’s will both be held Saturday, Sept. 19. This year, to ensure health and safety, participants will walk through their communities individually and in small groups on paths and trails. And, like Colleen and Nicole demonstrated, walkers are able to personalize their walk experience. To register for or donate to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, go to alz.org/walk
. To donate to Colleen’s team, Compassionate Care, go to: https://act.alz.org/site/TR/Walk2020/CO-Colorado?team_id=612376&pg=team&fr_id=13322
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 www.alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.