Faded Memories

When Alzheimer’s Strikes Close to Home

For Katy resident Amanda Bailey and her family, Alzheimer’s struck very close to home, afflicting her mother Clara Denson. “I was only 35 years old when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” explains Amanda Bailey. “Not only did the disease take away my mother, it took away my best friend.”

Clara Denson suffered from an accelerated form of the disease. In the beginning it was a loss of organizational skills and then her mom no longer knew how to do simple things like talk into a telephone. Medications had no effect on her illness. Long before symptoms appear, the disease begins damaging the brain. The nerve cells that process, store and retrieve information degenerate and die, diminishing the brain’s ability to send and receive messages. Eventually, the disease impaired Mrs. Denson’s ability to perform basic functions like speech and swallowing. Clara Denson passed away in 2003 at the age of 73 surrounded by her family.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that robs its victims of their memories, abilities, and, eventually, of their lives. Former President Ronald Reagan suffered for more than a decade with the disease before his death in 2004. How sad and ironic that the man known as the “Great Communicator” would be struck down by a disease that took away his ability to speak.

“Alzheimer’s is such a devastating disease,” comments Bailey. “The injustice of it makes you feel so helpless.” As a tribute to her mother, Amanda Bailey started the Memory Walk of Katy to benefit research and programs of the Alzheimer’s Association. She teamed up with a friend, Jennie Smith, who is a Unit Leader for Creative Memories, the world leader in the direct selling of scrapbooking products. The company is one of the national sponsors of the Memory Walk. Bailey and Smith convinced Memory Walk officials that Katy needed its own event.

“We raised $10,000 in our very first year,” says Bailey. The annual Katy Memory Walk is held each September on the weekend after Labor Day at Cinco Ranch High School. Amanda and her husband John and their children Anna, Sarah and Jay participate in the walk along with her father Fred, who now lives with them. Bailey’s brother Cliff Denson is also a Katy resident. He and his wife Lisa and their four children, Christina, Taylor, Charles and Anne Marie also participate in the Memory Walk as a way of honoring their mother and grandmother’s memory while fund research toward a cure.

Jamey and Margie Gonzales and their three children of Katy know what it’s like when Alzheimer’s or dementia strikes someone you love. Diagnosed with dementia after the loss of her husband six years ago, their mother and grandmother, Andrea Gonzales, can no longer live alone. She became one of the first residents of Autumn Grove Cottage when it opened last October in Katy.

“We chose Autumn Grove Cottage because we wanted to have my mother-in-law closer to us, in a special place that offers her what she needs,” says Margie Gonzales. “This way she can enjoy having her own place while still being part of our lives.”

The first of its kind in Katy, Autumn Grove Cottage is a new type of residential facility dedicated to caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The facility provides an alternative to traditional institutional care by offering residents the benefits of professional nursing and customized care plans in a smaller, more intimate, homelike setting,

To make their mother feel more at home, the Gonzales family had her piano moved to the facility, so she can play and entertain the other residents. “Despite her illness, she has never forgotten how to play the piano,” remarks Gonzales.

“Since Alzheimer’s is our specialty, all of our hiring, training and programming is targeted at this population with very special needs,” explains Co-founder Randy Vanstory “Everything at Autumn Grove Cottage is centered on Alzheimer’s and related dementia care.”

A new therapy gaining popularity for Alzheimer’s patients is reminiscent therapy, which uses scrapbooks and photo albums. Because Alzheimer’s disease attacks a person’s ability to remember, scrapbooks can be an effective way of helping victims retrieve lost memories and experience flashes of clarity.

Helping families preserve memories is the focus of Jennie Smith’s role with Creative Memories. “Scrapbooks are a way of helping people find comfort by recording memories before they are lost forever,” explains Smith. “Scrapbooks give the opportunity to hang on to those memories and pass on those stories.”

According to the Houston Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, some 70,000 southeast Texans have the disease. As we age, the chance of getting the progressive brain disorder increases to 50% by age 85. New treatments are on the horizon. New medications have been developed to slow down the effects of the disease. Experts suggest that the best defense against Alzheimer’s is to follow strategies for healthy aging: control blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels; exercise both your body and your mind; and stay active socially.

For Amanda Bailey, her mother is gone, but through her work with the Katy Memory Walk benefiting Alzheimer’s research, she hopes to involve the entire community so someday no family will have to experience the loss of a loved one to Alzheimer’s.

Autumn Grove can accommodate up to 16 residents in private rooms. Home-style meals are served in a spacious dining room. A scenic outdoor courtyard known as Alice’s Garden provides residents a place for walks and the opportunity to exercise their green thumbs. Landscape architect Tim Shultz designed the special garden as a tribute to his grandmother-in-law who suffered with Alzheimer’s and as a gift to Katy families dealing with the pain of Alzheimer’s.

How You Can Help

To walk or be a sponsor at the 2006 Katy Memory Walk, contact
Amanda Bailey at 281-578-3418 or Jennie Smith at 281-578-0744.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, visit www.alz.org or www.alztex.org or call 800-272-3900

For information about Autumn Grove Cottage,
visit www.autumngrovecottage.com or call 713-870-1393

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