Alana Baldwin watched her father slowly deteriorate from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Now she’s going through the process herself.
Baldwin, 65, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s three years ago.
“I wasn’t too surprised after I started seeing things in myself,” said Baldwin, who first noticed signs she had the disease in her mid-50s when she began having trouble speaking or thinking straight. “Then (doctors) ran the test, and then I thought, ‘Alana, your father had it. Your grandmother had it. Why wouldn’t you have it?'”
She now serves as a volunteer peer counselor with the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association®. Baldwin shares her story, lends an ear, offers support, and does her best to answer questions from those who have been recently diagnosed with dementia.
“I think anybody that does volunteer work at the Alzheimer’s Association gets back 20 times what they give,” she said. “It’s important because we’ve got to get this work done. We’ve got to get (information) out there.”
Baldwin’s good friend and Alzheimer’s advocate, Jay Burnham, said spreading awareness is key to stomping the stigma associated with dementia.
“People don’t understand it, and that’s a big problem,” he said. “I think cancer is another issue, too, that if that person has cancer, or that person has Alzheimer’s, they don’t look at them as a human being. They’re not the disease. They have the disease, but they’re not that disease.”
Baldwin says denial is another primary obstacle people living with dementia must overcome.
“If you, or, especially the person that has Alzheimer’s is in denial about it, and a lot of people are, you have to break that, because while you’re in denial, you’re just coping, and it gets worse and worse,” she said.
Baldwin credits her father with teaching her how to live with Alzheimer’s, and the most important lesson she learned was to accept the fact she has the disease.
“You’ve got to move from denial to acceptance,” she said. “My father just accepted it. I did. It was kind of like, ‘Well, Alana, you have it.’ You have to get (to acceptance) before you can start living life with Alzheimer’s.”
That’s why the Alzheimer’s Association is such a valuable resource.
“They will help you, and the person with Alzheimer’s, get to that point of acceptance,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know what they do. It’s kind of magic.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is not responsible for information or advice provided by others, including information on websites that link to Association sites and on third party sites to which the Association links. Please direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have clients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, or who are caring for a loved one living with the disease, consider asking whether they have contacted their local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The organization offers a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) with experts who can answer the hard questions and offer support to those affected and their families.