‘That’s my prayer, that we can at least get a remission for this disease:’ Families talk impact of Alzheimer’s

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — While Alzheimer’s takes a heavy toll on the person diagnosed, it also heavily impacts their families. That’s why they want to spread awareness and raise funds through The Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Sisters Sandra Varano and Tammy King lost their mother to Alzheimer’s more than 10 years ago.

“It’s very stressful taking care of your family member suffering from that, and not just the physical part of it, but the emotional part of it is,” said Varano. “You just see them looking, and you can see their eyes, and you can see the fear and the anxiety. It’s hard, it’s stressful.”

Varano and King said their mother began showing symptoms in 1994. King said she first noticed after an outing with her mother. She said her mother began driving the wrong way home.

Their mother’s care consumed their thoughts every day.

“17 years ago, I was in a horrible car accident,” said King. “All I could think of was Mama who cared about me, I didn’t care what was wrong with me, I didn’t care what was gonna happen to me. All I kept thinking is who’s gonna take care of Mama, who’s gonna bathe Mama, who’s going to help Daddy.”

The women said, along with their father and other family members, they cared for their mother at home as long as they could, but it wasn’t always easy.

The sisters said their mother was always very independent and seeing her lose that was tough.

Varano said the resources and support available in 1994 were far more limited than they are now. She said there needs to be a bigger nationwide discussion.

“President Reagan, he’s the one that brought it to the attention I truly believe of America in general,” said Varano. “Once that came out, everybody knew Alzheimer’s, what it is. For those few years, it was out there and being talked about quite often, but then that all just faded away.”

In 1996, Varano got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association and Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Through the walks, she tries to be a resource for others.

“I try to help ones when I’m able to talk with them and give them information of what happens because it’s very confusing the beginning of it, too, because it’s very hard,” said Varano. “When when you start noticing this, and there are so many different levels that they go through.”

Varano said something she reminds families is to not talk to the person with Alzheimer’s any differently. She said music can also be a great comfort.

Traci Haga-Nash’s great-grandmother and grandmother both died of the disease and now her aunt also has Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s has been at the forefront of her mind for many years. Her great-grandmother died from the disease in 1992 and her grandmother in 2015.

Haga-Nash said with each woman, the battle has been a long one.

“My guess is my grandmother was in the nursing home/assisted living, and then in memory care for 10 years or more,” said Haga-Nash. “It was a slow agonizing process.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million people in the US are living with the disease right now. It reports homecare can cost around $50,000 a year.

The Alzheimer’s Association provides resources to walk families through the process once someone is diagnosed.

“If you’re looking for something for your parent or you’re trying to figure out your next steps,” Sara Dickson, Tennessee Chapter Alzheimer’s Association. “There are all those different things, all those different questions, we have quality trained people to help guide you and get you to where you need to go.”

Some of those resources Haga-Nash has used for her own family.

“There is an 800 number that they provide that is a great source,” said Haga-Nash. “I’ve actually called that number in the past, actually, this past year for my aunt to help my cousin. They, within an hour, got emails to me that I could forward to my cousin, the facilities around just their area.”

More than 600 Walks to End Alzheimer’s are held around the country. Families and organizers hope to raise both awareness and funds through the walks.

The Tri-Cities walk has a goal of $80,000. At the time of publication of this article, they had raised more than $50,000.

“The money that we raise locally in all of these communities goes to support those local programs and services,” said Dickson. “Also that money is raised to support clinical trials happening all over the globe. So that we can someday find a cure.”

Families hope that cure will come soon.

“It’s the only disease with not one survivor,” said Varano. “None. That’s my prayer, that we can at least get a remission for this disease. If no cure, remission, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is at the Bristol Motor Dragway Saturday, October 9 at 9 a.m.

Registration is open right now online here. Registration can also be done in person at the race Saturday morning starting at 7:30 a.m.

Those who seek more information or assistance with Alzheimer’s care or support can call the Alzheimer’s Association Hotline 24/7 at 1 (800) 272-3900 or visit the Alzheimer’s Association Website.

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