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Let’s ride one more time …

The journey — before Alzheimer’s and after Alzheimer’s

By Staff | May 30, 2021

The “Maine” ladies enjoying family time together. Daughters Kathy Dressen (far left) and Karen Stanton (far right) enjoy a good day with their Mom and one of her granddaughters, Kelsey Hodges.

Alzheimer’s. It is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years.

Locally, there is a group which has been raising money for Alzheimer’s research for nine years. This year, on Saturday, June 12, this group will hold its 10th, and final, Alzheimer’s fundraiser, which is held in Winnebago.

People can register for the Alzheimer’s 5K, 10K, Walk, Run or Bike event by calling First Financial Bank in Winnebago at 507-893-3155 or by sending an email to kathy.dressen@1stbago.com.

The registration fee is $5. Pre-registration is not required but is encouraged.

Donations are accepted at First Financial Bank in Winnebago through July 15, 2021.

The fundraiser donates all of its profits to Regions Hospital Foundation for Alzheimer’s research.

Winnebago’s Walk, Ride, or Bike event was started by Kathy Dressen, who lost her mother (Dorothy Maine) to Alzheimer’s disease.

Kathy has been gracious enough to share her family’s experience in dealing with Alzheimers.

Here is Kathy’s story in her own words.

My mom had Alzheimer’s and I think it’s important to tell her “Before Alzheimer’s” and “After Alzheimer’s” story…

Mom’s mom died on Mother’s Day when Mom was 12 years old. Being the oldest girl of five other siblings, she was suddenly in charge of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her family, in addition to keeping up with school. When her dad died seven years later, she was left with no parents to help her through life. Her hard-work ethic continued as the wife of a farmer, helping with walking beans, disking, and hauling the corn and bean crops to town. This was in addition to being a mom to three kids. Never once did I hear her complain.

Her faith and church were a huge part of her life. She was a faithful reader of her daily devotions and Bible, an active member of United Methodist Women and was a piano accompanist at the Basey Church for at least 40 years. Very, very rarely did she miss a Sunday church service.

Her family was definitely her other priority. I remember always feeling so loved by my mom. After raising her kids, she was so excited to be a grandma to five. She always said she felt so bad about her own kids not having grandparents that she was going to make it up to her grandkids. And boy, did she ever. When great grandkids became a part of our family she was thrilled and spoiled them as much as her grandkids.

In February of 2005 Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One of the first things she said was “I hope I’m alive to see Anne’s twins.” My niece was due with twins in July and it was so typical of mom to think of family that she hadn’t even met yet.

We were fortunate that my dad was able to take care of mom at home as her disease progressed slowly at first. As she forgot how to do routine activities like baking and cooking, he took over. And when using the stove became dangerous, he removed the fuses so she wouldn’t turn it on. When she went up the steep stairs in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep to “re-arrange” things, he put a lock on the top of the stairway door to help keep her safe. Mom and Dad could no longer play Skipbo together, which they had done for many years, because she couldn’t remember how to play. Around 2009, her hallucinations became more regular and she started to become more defiant. Dad would call me often to see if I could convince Mom that there weren’t strangers in the yard trying to get in to their house.

By the middle of 2010, my sister and I were convinced that it wasn’t safe for Mom to be at home anymore and the struggle was wearing on our dad. But we also realized that we were going to have to be the ones to make the decision that mom needed to go to a nursing home because Dad just couldn’t do it. So in November we visited area nursing homes, decided which one would be best, and put her name on a waiting list. A couple days before Christmas we got a call that a room was available and she could move in anytime. On December 31, 2010 we moved Mom to the nursing home, and by that time, the mom we knew really wasn’t with us anymore.

My dad visited her every day, weather permitting. After 61 years of marriage, it wasn’t surprising that she would beg him to take her home almost every time he said good-bye. As her language skills deteriorated rapidly, I felt blessed to almost always get a hug and kiss from her when I left the nursing home. She became angrier quite rapidly and when the nursing home would call me in the middle of the night to see if I could come to “calm her,” I am ashamed to say I was annoyed, but I always ended up treasuring that time when I would sit by her bed holding her hand. I will never forget when she said “I love you so much” when she hadn’t spoken any words that made sense in several months. I also remember praying quite often when I left that God would take her at the right time. I felt so guilty asking that, but it was just so hard seeing her live the life that I knew was so unfair to her.

Ten months after Mom moved to the nursing home and six and a half years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I was fortunate to be with her the night she left this earth for a much better place in heaven. As I sat with her, holding her hand, rubbing her forehead and laying my head in her lap, I talked to her about our family and the good memories we created together over the years. Hearing my mom’s last breaths, after reassuring her it was OK to go, was the saddest moment of my life. But I also knew her daily struggle with Alzheimer’s was over and for that, I was truly grateful.

That night a few hours before Mom died, a man visiting with his mom on the Alzheimer’s floor, stopped in and told me, “You just always need your mom.” Oh, how true that has become! I needed her when I became a grandma to share in that excitement with me, but I also needed her when my second grandchild didn’t live to make it into the world. Oh how I wanted to call her and hear her tell me, “It will be OK.” When my brother lost his battle with cancer, I needed her hug as much as I know she would’ve needed mine. The unconditional love of a mom just can’t be replaced.

A couple months after Mom died, it hit me that I needed to do something to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. It took me quite awhile after she was diagnosed before I could accept it, much less tell anyone about it. Because I was a regular walker and thought about my mom a lot during those walks, I came up with the idea to have an event that would raise awareness while also raising money for research. So in 2012, the first Walk, Run or Bike Ride in Winnebago for Alzheimer’s Research took place. Since then, the annual event has raised over $37,000. I think Mom would be proud.

This year’s event on June 12 will be the final one. Ten years seemed like a good time to let it go. For the past nine years, when I read the names of those that are being honored by participants, I’ve never been able to make it through without tears. I think of those people’s lives “Before Alzheimer’s” and “After Alzheimer’s” and sadness overtakes me. One day, I hope we can all celebrate when all of the research money has made a difference in so many people’s lives with the development of a cure.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with the disease are 65 and older. But, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging.

Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association there are approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s.

In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United State.

On average, a person living with Alzheimer’s lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.

Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.