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Friends Through It All

Friends Through It All
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Fall 2020
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Nikki DeLoach and Ashley Williams share a special bond due to both having parents living with dementia.Actors Nikki DeLoach and Ashley Williams lean on each other as their parents face dementia

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 two years teamed up to raise over $30,000 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.”

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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.

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“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. After making the difficult decision to move David to a memory care facility, DeLoach turned to Williams for comfort.

“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

DeLoach and Williams approached Walk to End Alzheimer’s with the same drive and determination that helped them face dementia.

Although they live on opposite sides of the country, the pair created Team DeLoach and Williams Families, then raised funds and awareness by creating videos and asking family, friends and colleagues to donate. Both actors have appeared in several popular Hallmark Channel films, and received an outpouring of support from fellow cast and crew members.

Williams says she was inspired by her mom, who spent her career fundraising for organizations such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “I feel my mom’s presence when I am working with the Alzheimer’s Association,” Williams says. “My mom used to say, ‘People want to help, but sometimes they just don’t know how.’ Showing people how to help is often a relief for them.”

Ashley Williams and Nikki DeLoach have attended and spoken at Walk to End Alzheimer's events.In 2019, Williams attended and spoke at Walk to End Alzheimer’s in New York City, while DeLoach attended and spoke at the Los Angeles event. Despite the distance, their bond was stronger than ever as they connected with families impacted by Alzheimer’s and other dementia. DeLoach’s son walked holding the event’s sole white flower — which signifies hope for the first survivor of Alzheimer’s.

“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.”

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