The Alzheimer’s Arkansas Champions Gala helps fund hope and healing for Alzheimer’s caregivers and families.
Guest Blog by Dwain Hebda | Photography by Kelly Quinn Photography
Pat Carlton remembers precisely the moment her mother Louise crossed the threshold from simple age-related forgetfulness to something more serious.
“She was close to turning 80,” Pat recalls. “She was supposed to go to a friend’s house for lunch. I was talking to her that afternoon and she said. ‘You know, I couldn’t find Dana’s house, so I just came home.’ That was the point where I went, ‘Uh-oh.’”
Pat experienced her mother’s journey through the various stages of Alzheimer’s from 2000 to 2010. She knew little about the vagaries of dementia, of which there are more than 150 types, and nothing about being a caregiver – a skill she learned through research, reading and spending time with Louise.
“I didn’t have any counseling or a support group,” she says. “I think I would have gone to one, just to say, ‘Are ya’ll experiencing this?’ But I didn’t know such a thing was out there.”
Pat’s story is all too common, according to Elise Siegler, President of Alzheimer’s Arkansas. “The caregiver is typically the wife or the husband, and they’re usually unprepared,” Elise says. “They’re thrown into a situation that’s very challenging, confusing and stressful. Almost one-third of all caregivers pass away before their loved ones, because of the added stress and frustration.”
“Educating caregivers is so important because they really don’t understand the disease itself. They don’t understand how to take care of themselves. They don’t understand that a simple wheelchair ramp or another assisted technology can often keep their loved ones at home with them. Teaching them these tools and tips is really important.”
Champions Gala, Alzheimer’s Arkansas signature annual event, generates critical funding for the organization’s mission fulfillment – 85 cents of every dollar supports programs for Arkansas caregivers and families of patients. Services include a toll-free 24-hour caregiver hotline, educational workshops and portable libraries of resource materials. Alzheimer’s Arkansas also fosters caregiver support groups; 65 in 52 Arkansas counties.
The Champions Gala also celebrates the devotion and dedication of outstanding advocate caregivers, and Pat will be recognized as an honoree. In addition to being an inspiration in her own family, Pat and her husband Bill are longtime supporters of the Ginny and Bob Shell Alzheimer’s Center at Parkway Village in Little Rock. Opened in 2010, the facility was established by the Baptist Health Foundation, of which Bill was a longtime board member. His contribution to the center, funding for the rose garden in Louise’s honor, was a wonderful surprise to Pat.
Pat admits she was at first hesitant about being recognized at the Champions Gala, just as she was initially reluctant to be involved with Alzheimer’s Arkansas programs. Her experiences with her mother were just too painful. However, as time passed, she discovered helping navigate this illness is a meaningful tribute to her mother’s memory.
“You watch your mother or your dad or your spouse suffer from something like this and you think, ‘Why are they still here? God, why are you letting them stay on this earth so long?’” Pat says. “Well, with my mother, I saw her offer unconditional love to her caregivers and she changed their lives.”
“Now, my goal is to bring awareness and support to this organization and to have a similar loving impact on people’s lives.”