By: Maria Monreal-Cameron
As always, I came home at the end of a long work day with my husband gentle on my mind. I drove into the garage, entered the kitchen and as is my custom opened the refrigerator to check if he had eaten his dinner, prepared for him that morning. He had not. I found him relaxing in his chair outside the front door and asked “Dad (my pet name for him, conversely he calls me mom), why didn’t you have your dinner?” He replied, “today is Friday and we are going for a fish fry.” My heart sank as I replied, “no dad, today is Wednesday.”
Not knowing the days of the week, the time of day, faucets left on, meds not taken; entry doors left open, short-term memory loss and confusion. All too frequent signs that are not indicators of normal aging but the on-set of Alzheimer’s disease.
It is a heart-wrenching experience, witnessing the progressive deterioration of a strong, robust, in-control giant of a man. My loving and supportive husband who, on many occasions, guided and coached me on addressing professional obstacles and challenges; the go-to person I depended on to discuss my ideas and strategies with; the proud and loving patriarch who taught our accomplished children about living, loving and caring; the brilliant, compassionate attorney whose expertise was continuously sought out and who represented thousands of clients during his 50-year legal career. GIVE HIM BACK! My mind often screams.
I became a Champion, or “Campeóna” for the Alzheimer’s Association, because Alzheimer’s is rearing its ugly head in my home and is threatening my community. We know from statistical reports that it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and affects over 5.3 million Americans, and 26 million worldwide. Here in Wisconsin, nearly 110,000 residents have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and close to 200,000 care giving loved ones are dealing with the emotional and financial burden this disease brings.
People of my own Hispanic heritage are about 1.5 times more likely than Anglos to develop Alzheimer’s. There is no known genetic factor for these differences, but there is a strong correlation between Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure and diabetes, conditions that are all too prevalent in my community. Sadly, it has also been documented that although Hispanics have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s than Anglos, they are less likely to obtain a diagnosis. A later diagnosis has negative implications on families and healthcare costs.
I have personally seen what this disease can do and I am calling on everyone to take action. If you have any concerns about your loved ones, contact the Alzheimer’s Association. As I have well experienced, one does not have to face this alone. The Alzheimer’s Association has tremendous resources that can make a big difference.
It is also time for our community to talk openly about Alzheimer’s. We need to better understand how our lifestyle conditions put us at risk and we must take steps to protect ourselves and our families. We need our elected officials and policy makers to understand the strains that this disease will have on our people and our economy. We need more funds for research to find ways to prevent, treat and maybe someday even cure Alzheimer’s and we need more funds for care and support.
Most importantly, we must dare to end the silence, we must speak out, and we must reach out for help. The emotional and societal costs of Alzheimer’s disease will soar in the coming years, and we must invest time and resources today in order to be able to have a better future tomorrow. So join me – please get involved. If we all work together, one day we will say “hasta la vista Alzheimer’s, adios, Alzheimer’s” and leave a better world for our children and grandchildren. Juntos/together we can make it happen!
The Alzheimer’s Association is conducting Memory Walks throughout the area in September and October. The Milwaukee Memory Walk will be held on October 2 at Mount Mary College. Anyone can register by visiting: http://www.alz.org/sewi/in_ my_community_memorywalk. asp#Register_for_a_walk
Maria Monreal-Cameron is the President & CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (HCCW), and a Champion for the Alzheimer’s Association. Her slogan: Hasta la vista, Alzheimer’s; adios, Alzheimer’s. For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association at 414-479-8800 or go to alz.org/sewi and click on Be a Champion.