At 80, June Ross has seen a lot, and now she’s volunteering to help others
June Ross doesn’t claim to know everything there is to know about Alzheimer’s disease, but she knows a lot, and she wants to share it.
Six years ago, June lost her husband of 38 years. Toward the end of his life, he developed dementia, so she provided care for him in their home.
Now, June is in the unenviable position of helping to care for her 53-year-old daughter, Kathi Reginato, who is living with early-onset Alzheimer’s with her family in Longmont.
“I’m the one who should be getting it, not her,” said June of her daughter. “It was a shock…a big shock.”
Having already seen her husband’s declining cognitive health toward the end of his life, June knew something wasn’t right with Kathi several years before her formal diagnosis, but “when you have someone close to you going through something, you make excuses. You’re in denial. But it is what it is, and we have to deal with it.”
Helping – and then helping some more
Not one to back down from a challenge, June has been helping Kathi’s husband, Dave, by taking Kathi to her weekly support group and then lunch. Two other days a week, June and Kathi get out (at least before COVID-19) for lunch and some girl talk.
During the eight-week support group, June was surprised that there are so many people – caregivers as well as those living with Alzheimer’s – who “have no idea what’s coming and what they’ll be going through as a caregiver or a person living with the disease.
“I have experience living with a spouse who was losing his memory,” said June. “Now I’ve got a younger daughter. I have an idea of how to approach this.”
That helped inspire June’s next step in volunteering.
Looking for a cause
Looking for something to volunteer for, June found it in Alzheimer’s disease. Having taken an educational class through the Alzheimer’s Association before engaging in the support group, she told Ralph Patrick, Greater Boulder and Mountain region director for the Alzheimer’s Association, that she appreciated the experience and “wanted to help others.”
So, at age 80, June became a first-time facilitator for an Alzheimer’s support group.
“I want each meeting to have a focus,” she said. “It may be ‘how do I cope with my spouse or loved one?’ How do you feel about that? That starts a conversation in a direction to get them to express their feelings.”
June feels that the support group teaches her as much as she imparts.
“I learn from each group. Each is different,” she said. “Some people take leadership roles and others vent. We all cope…we all grieve differently.”
And then came coronavirus
The current coronavirus pandemic has thrown a twist into support groups, but the Alzheimer’s Association and June are adapting. All support groups now meet by phone. While it reduces risk of exposure to the virus, it does affect the group dynamic somewhat.
“I’ll hear questions about feelings of isolation,” said June. “Almost all of the people in my group are caregiving for their spouse. During the phone meetings, I don’t know what the people look like. Sometimes I get a feeling of fear or dismay from one of the group members. But, having seen this disease with a daughter and a husband, I have an idea of how to approach it.
June’s goal: helping people with good information
People can better cope with Alzheimer’s disease when they understand what they’re dealing with. June’s goal is to ensure that the caregivers she encounters understand the disease – and how it affects their loved one – so they can make good choices.
“A lot of people are very impatient with their spouse,” she said. Things will come up, such as the subjects of intimacy and coping. How the disease affects these behaviors needs to be introduced to their way of thinking so they can be patient. If a spouse doesn’t understand what their husband or wife is going through, it can drive them crazy and lead to separation or divorce.”
Alzheimer’s Association remote services
During the coronavirus pandemic, all Alzheimer’s Association programs and services are being offered remotely, either online or by telephone – and all are at no charge to Colorado families. To learn more about online classes, go to www.training.alz.org. To connect with the Alzheimer’s Association online forum for caregivers, and for those living with the disease, go to www.alzconnected.org. Or call the free 24/7 Helpline, staffed by trained professionals, at 800-272-3900.
More than 5.8 million people in the U.S., including 76,000 Coloradans, are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure.
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.