New statistics released in 2018 show that there are now more than 84,000 people in San Diego County living with Alzheimer's and related dementias, and more than 200,000 people caring for them. Now, more than ever, we at A-1 Self Storage believe it is important to support organizations whose mission is to alleviate the hardship caused by this disease.
We are proud to support Alzheimer’s San Diego’s important work. The research this organization has undertaken, the progress they have made, the programs they provide, and the community they have built have not only improved the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s, but also the lives of their family members and caregivers.
If you’re unfamiliar with this disease, the National Institutes of Health define Alzheimer’s as, “….an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-60s.”
The individuals affected by this disease are all sharing in a difficult journey. Below are three short stories that illustrate why A-1 Self Storage supports Alzheimer’s San Diego’s mission. If you would like to donate your time, talent or money to this wonderful organization more information can be found at https://www.alzsd.org.
No Two Alzheimer’s Experiences Are The Same
Deborah and Greg’s Story
Deborah Gould knows about the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s, and wants you to look her in the eyes while she addresses it.
“If you have Alzheimer’s, everyone thinks you don’t even know the difference between night and day, and they don’t look at you in the eye,” Deborah explains. “I have beautiful blue eyes! In any communication, there’s eye contact. I don’t have that.”
This is just one example of the difficulties Deborah and her husband, Greg, have experienced since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. They know that a lack of familiarity, rather than malice, is responsible for the indignities they’ve experienced. Deborah has made it her mission to fight the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s by sharing her story.
“People who don’t know much about Alzheimer’s, and I have to admit, I used to be one of them…they get so uncomfortable,” Deborah says. “Society needs to be taught more about the disease…to understand that I’m still here.”
While no two people experience Alzheimer’s exactly the same way, the disease typically develops slowly over time. This can cause relationships to change, communication methods to change, and can even cause new safety concerns. For those not in regular contact with someone affected by Alzheimer’s, seeing these changes can be jarring.
To help those unfamiliar with the disease, Deborah shares the story of her day-to-day life. In it she describes how tasks that once seemed mundane slowly became impossible due to her inability to remember. For her, the world has become an often confusing string of separate, distinct moments that are quickly forgotten.
“You don’t remember what you had planned for the day,” Deborah says. “You get up and get dressed in one of the three outfits you wear regularly, ignoring all the other clothes in your closet. You go into the kitchen to make coffee, but you can’t remember where the coffee is. You feed the cats. Or did you already? You take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher, but you’re not sure where to put them.”
By walking us through her day, Deborah describes a life full of repetition and uncertainty. Going to the doctor, ordering at a restaurant, and watching TV all have new difficulties caused by the disease. Even reading a book is nearly impossible as her ability to follow a narrative has declined.
As she describes preparing for bed, Deborah laments on the toll Alzheimer’s has taken on her ability to get a full night’s rest, and how the cycle will repeat tomorrow.
“Once in bed it takes a long time to fall asleep. Once asleep you awake in a few hours, then again later,” Deborah said. “You awake in the morning, not feeling rested, and you don’t know what day of the week it is, what the date is, what the month is, or even what year it is.”
Living with the reality of knowing where the disease is headed, Deborah shares her story to help others understand and empathize with those who live with Alzheimer’s.
An Extended Family Who Understands
Sandy and Rachel’s Story
In all of the years Sandy Gonzales and Rachel Tothill have been married, Alzheimer’s is the most difficult thing they have ever experienced. When Sandy was diagnosed in 2016, she was stunned. She was very young for someone with Alzheimer’s, only 50 years old.
“You never think it’s going to be you,” Sandy said.
On the night Sandy was diagnosed, Rachel, unable to sleep, snuck out of bed to research what options were available to them. After searching for dementia support, she found Alzheimer’s San Diego.
“I sat there, looking at the website, and I just cried and cried,” Rachel said. “I saw there was a form that said ‘Contact Us’. I filled it out…and literally, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Even as a nurse, I felt like I had completely lost all my power. I thought, ‘This is too hard. This is too much.’”
The following morning, Rachel received a phone call that she credits with saving her life. Sarina, a social working with Alzheimer’s San Diego, was calling to ask how Rachel was doing and if there was anything she could do to help. Nothing complicated, just support and understanding.
“She didn’t even say anything earth-shattering,” Rachel said. “She couldn’t say it’s going to be fine, because it’s not. But by saying, Hey, we’ve got this. Let’s help you. What an amazing message to give someone.”
Since then, Rachel and Sandy have been active with Alzheimer’s San Diego. They are regulars at the regular activities, outings, and support and discussion groups. Sandy’s sister, Sherrie, has even started volunteering.
“In a lot of ways, this has been a blessing in recognizing the value of what you have. I don’t wish this blessing upon anybody,” Rachel added quickly. “But Sandy is gracious and loving, and it’s actually brought us closer together. It’s tightened our relationships with our core people, and with family. You have to have a reason for going through something like this. So for me, this is the reason.”
A Supportive Community For Caregivers
Larry and Sally’s Story
Larry and Sally Hamon were happily married for decades. During that time they’d done some incredible things, including raising three children, and Larry retiring from the Air Force as an officer. After all of that work, Larry and Sally were finally ready to settle into retirement.
But in 2010, on the day of their 40th wedding anniversary, Larry and Sally received news that would change not only their plans for retirement, but their day-to-day lives. Sally was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“When she got the diagnosis, we went home and cried,” Larry said. “I’m 63, she’s 62, and we just retired. And now she’s got a death sentence.”
After so many loving years together, Larry was fully committed to being Sally’s caregiver. Taking on such a monumental task would be difficult alone, but Larry found the Men’s Support Group program, lead by Sara Barker.
“When I got here and found there was a men’s support group, it called to me,” Larry said. “It’s guys. It’s a place where I can be more open and frank. If I break down and cry, they’re going to understand. I felt comfortable immediately, like I was home.”
Larry found that the Men’s Group was a place where he could recharge and learn from others who were taking on the same role he was. During the next few years, Larry made many friends, and learned how to care for Sally.
In 2015, after a brave battle with Alzheimer’s, Sally passed away, but Larry continued to attend meetings with the Men’s Group. In 2017 he was asked to act as a co-facilitator.
“I was the first one in the group to lose their partner. I kept going and telling my story, and I went back after she died,” Larry said. “It seemed to me I could have a role in being a pathfinder. I could share my experience about death, and dealing with the sympathy of people who were concerned about me.”
Larry is able to connect on a special level with the Men’s Group attendees. More than a few times, Larry has met newcomers at the door and walked in with them to help them feel safe and comfortable. He now helps to lead support the same group that had helped him during his most difficult moments.
You Can Make a Difference
Thank you for taking the time to read a few stories that illustrate Alzheimer’s San Diego’s work. Their important mission affects thousands of local families and we hope you’ve been inspired to support this great organization! If you’d like to learn more about how you can volunteer time, funds or talent, please visit https://www.alzsd.org/.