Cooney Lasher: Why I walk to end Alzheimer’s disease
Special to the Daily
Editor’s Note: The Vail Daily is running testimonials leading up to the Sept. 26 Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
My dad is my hero. Like many girls, my dad has always been bigger than life. He was a successful businessman in Lowell, Massachusetts, and is quite honestly the smartest, kindest, most generous and most honest man I have ever met. He always taught my sisters and me the importance of hard work, family and friends. He was one to not just “Talk the talk, but walk the walk.”
My dad had the answer and solution to any problem I placed in front of him. When I was a baby he drove me around in the car to put me to sleep each night, he taught me to ride a bike and ski, and he attended every swim meet and tennis match I played in throughout high school. He would travel to Providence when I was feeling homesick in college and take all of my roommates out to dinner. He was the one I called when I ran out of gas, even if I was in Colorado and he was 1,500 miles away in Massachusetts.
After graduating from college in 1993 with my teaching degree, my dad was the one who encouraged me to move to Colorado and become a ski instructor. Twenty-eight years later, I can’t imagine living any other place and I was the lucky one who had my dad’s annual ski trip descend upon Vail the first week of December for over 20 years.
It was during one of these ski trips that I first started seeing changes in my dad. He showed up at the base of the gondola with jeans on. When I asked him why he wasn’t wearing his ski pants, he replied he just likes skiing in jeans. (Little did I know that he had forgotten to pack his ski pants.) A few days later, he was meeting me in Avon for dinner and went east instead of west on I-70 from Vail. He also misplaced his phone multiple times. It was later that year that my mom shared that my dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It was then that the grief began to move in as I slowly lost my dad.
That summer, my mom reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and became involved in an Alzheimer’s support group where she and my dad attended weekly meetings for patients and caregivers. It was during these meetings that mom learned that Alzheimer’s is so much more than just misplacing a phone or forgetting ski pants.
His personality was beginning to change. He was becoming more agitated in the afternoons, which we learned was called “sundowning.” The man who always wanted to spend every moment with his children and grandchildren started picking fights and asking to “go home.” He was confused about everything and Alzheimer’s was beginning to not only take its toll on him, but also on my mom.
His confusion and hostility worsened and after multiple trips to the emergency room for forgetting to drink water or coming down with the flu and not being capable of knowing what he needed, our family decided to place my dad in an extended care facility on a memory care floor.
This was a difficult decision for my entire family and one that did not come without its challenges. My dad’s days went from juggling work, golf outings and dinners with friends and family to coloring, sleeping and watching hours upon hours of the golf channel. My dad has had to undergo a psychological evaluation and is currently living in a fairly sedated state in an effort to protect his caregivers and himself. My grief continues, as the man who I visit is a ghost of the man who is my father.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which means my dad will continue to stay where he is for the remainder of his days. It is heartbreaking for my entire family. We are fortunate that my dad had the foresight many years ago to purchase a long-term care insurance policy. This covers the financial burden of his care. In addition to that my dad has either my mom or a caregiver with him twelve hours a day.
I am walking on Sept. 26 on team “Doing it for our Dads and Moms” for not only my dad but also for my mom. The lives of my mom and dad have taken on a different trajectory than we ever anticipated. I am walking to support the research and care for all families affected by this horrible disease. I will continue walking until we find a cure and no other families will have to go through what my family has had to endure for the past few years. Please consider joining my team, creating a team of your own, or making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in my name by visiting the following link: http://act.alz.org/goto/bethcooney.
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