When North Carolina resident, Tom Adams was growing up in Illinois, he remembers watching baseball games with his mom, Phyllis, and his brothers.
“Mom was a huge Chicago White Sox fan,” Tom says. “She grew up in Chicago, and was a White Sox fan when she was a kid.”
While the White Sox were her favorite team, Phyllis loved all sports, and Tom says one of her “highlights as a sports fan” was seeing the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
“She was smart, and very interested in lots of different things, but especially sports,” Tom says.
In 2005, Tom’s mom was diagnosed with a Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. A person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
At first, Tom didn’t notice many changes in Phyllis’ personality and behavior. While she was struggling with short-term memory, she was still present and understanding her surroundings. So when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series that same year for the first time since 1917, Tom calls it a “blessing.”
“She was so excited,” Tom says. “They won the world series for the first time in her entire life, and if it had happened 2-3 years later she might not have been able to understand what was happening or gotten as much into it.”
It’s because a few years later, Phyllis became less social, and was getting confused about which day it was, if she had taken her medication, and was becoming less social with friends and family. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, and Tom became her primary caregiver.
He researched the disease and hired an in-home aid to assist with caregiving, but admittedly, he felt isolated and overwhelmed, and didn’t know where to turn.
“I was really stressed out,” Tom says. “It was very frustrating to know that I felt like I was on my own. I didn’t know anything about the Alzheimer’s Association, and I could have used some support that I had no clue was out there.”
After Tom’s mom passed away, he saw an ad for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Triangle, and learned about how the money raised at the Walk goes toward providing critical advancements in care and support and research. After attending his first Walk, Tom knew he wanted to stay involved with the Association and make a difference in his community.
So he became an Alzheimer’s Association Community Educator in New Bern, where he now lives, to deliver Alzheimer’s Association programs on topics related to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias using prepared materials.
“I love being able to tell people, whether they are living with the disease or caring for or loving someone, that there’s this great website (alz.org) and this great phone number (24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900) that can assist them,” Tom says.
He says the most rewarding part of his volunteer role with the Association is helping people become educated about the disease and seeing the impact he is able to make on his community.
“For the most part, many people don’t understand the disease,” Tom says. “I used to not understand the difference between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and now I am able to explain warning signs and healthy living to people. It’s good to know that it was helpful.”
Become a Volunteer
Across North Carolina, the Alzheimer’s Association is currently recruiting volunteers like Tom. You too can inspire others and use your gift to help grow the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association from the ground up.
To become an Alzheimer’s Association Community Educator and help assure that the general public, caregivers and people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are linked to Alzheimer’s Association programs, visit our Community Educator page or contact us at 800-272-3900.
Learn more about all of our volunteer opportunities at volunteer.alz.org.