Actors Nikki DeLoach and Ashley Williams leaned on each other as their parents faced dementia
Editor's note: This article was updated in June 2022.
Longtime friends and fellow actors Nikki DeLoach and Ashley Williams have always shared a special bond. Since their early 20s, the women stood by each other as their careers took off and they started families.
That bond only grew stronger when Williams' mother passed away from dementia in 2016. Two years later, DeLoach's father was diagnosed with the disease.
"I met Ashley years ago at an acting studio," DeLoach says. "But the thing that connected us on a very deep level was our shared experience of having parents diagnosed with Alzheimer's and dementia."
To fight back, they became Alzheimer's Association Celebrity Champions, and over the last four years teamed up to raise more than $50,000 through the Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer's®.
"We bonded over how we can fight this disease," Williams says. "It was Nikki's idea to join forces for Walk to End Alzheimer's — she always says we're better together."
Caregiving takes a toll
Caring for someone living with Alzheimer's or another dementia comes with special challenges. We have resources to help.
Williams and her family knew something was wrong when Williams' mom, Linda, began to struggle with language and communication.
"One day I swung by her office and she was bent over a phone book. She looked up and said, 'Oh Ashley, thank goodness you're here! How do you spell the word 'Chicago?'" Williams says. In 2005, Linda was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of frontotemporal dementia
. She lived with the disease for the next 11 years, and Williams regularly helped care for her mom — often at the expense of her own well-being.
"I have a lot of trouble taking care of myself while also trying to take care of other people," Williams says. "When my mom became sick, I tried to take all the pain away from my parents, and I completely fell apart. Nikki and I talk a lot about how our health is just as important as our parents'. She is a grounding force in my life."
Lean on me
DeLoach describes 2018 as the "best and worst" year of her life. Her newborn son had open-heart surgery, and her father, David, was diagnosed with a type of frontotemporal dementia. But DeLoach found support all around her.
ALZConnected® is our free online community for everyone affected by Alzheimer's or another dementia. You can ask questions, get advice and find support.
"Both experiences were extraordinarily challenging and traumatic," DeLoach says. "We are very blessed to be surrounded by an incredible community of people who lifted us up in our time of need."
One of her biggest supporters was Williams, who offered comfort when DeLoach made the difficult decision to move David to a memory care facility and, later, when he died of dementia in 2021.
"Having a friend like Ashley in my life is like having a sister you can call on your best and worst days, when your heart is singing and also when it's breaking," says DeLoach. "It's knowing that you never have to be alone inside anything that you are going through."
Walking for a better future
he pair created Team DeLoach and Williams Families to raise funds and awareness through Walk to End Alzheimer's. Both actors have starred in several popular Hallmark Channel films, and received an outpouring of donations from fellow cast and crew members. Williams' sister, actor Kimberly Williams-Paisley, has also supported their team.
In 2021, the friends attended Walk to End Alzheimer's together in Los Angeles. DeLoach emceed the event while her mother, Terri, and Williams held flowers during the Promise Garden ceremony.
"When you see all of those people whose lives have been touched and affected by this disease, it’s really emotional," DeLoach says. "It makes you want to fight even harder."
Caring for Cargivers
Friends can be a great comfort to caregivers. Here are some other sources of support.
- Make new connections. Find other caregivers at a local Association support group or on ALZConnected®, an online community for caregivers.
- Manage stress. Talking to a friend is a great way to reduce stress, but physical activity can also help. Work exercise into each day — try gardening or walking.
- Find the right resources. Locate adult day programs, in-home care or other services by searching the Alzheimer’s Association & AARP Community Resource Finder.
- Prioritize self-care. Maintaining your health can help you be a better caregiver. Visit your doctor regularly, try to eat well and get enough sleep.
- Learn new skills. Explore the Association's free education programs on communication, dementia-related behavior and more.