Family’s Fight Against Dementia Becomes Blessing IN Disguise

Enjoying coconut cupcakes and bacon for breakfast, drinking a nightly ‘inch’ wine and listening to the tunes of legendary crooners Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, these memories of Ellie Mae Franks are forever engraved on the hearts of Kelly and Doug Ramsay. “We were living in South Florida when we realized my mom had developed dementia,” shares daughter Kelly. During her time in an assisted living facility, Ellie Mae enjoyed life to its fullest — games of ping pong and was rarely without a boyfriend (her husband had passed away years ago). The family admits they did not realize initially how advanced her mother’s condition was since they visited her daily. 

Ellie Mae was the kind of mom who was committed to both her daughter and son-in-law, Doug, who were married in their early 20’s.  “She was so loyal to us and treated Doug like her own.” Kelly noticed a change in her mother’s behavior when she began accusing the maid of stealing things which was highly unlikely. It was even more concerning when they discovered that Ellie Mae had put a pie in one of her cabinets. “We had always shared with Mom that when the day came that she ever felt uncomfortable to let us know and that we would take care of her.” Kelly’s mom realized that she was forgetting things which alarmed her. A visit to the neurologist confirmed that Ellie Mae had normal pressure hydrocephalus, a brain disorder in which excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain’s ventricles, causing thinking and reasoning problems, difficulty walking, and loss of bladder control. 

In January 2018, the Ramsays elected to sell their custom furniture business, leave Florida and buy a vacation home in Sapphire, North Carolina. “We are Christians and believed that the Lord was leading us to make this change and bring Mom with us to take care of her.” The Ramsays completed retrofitting the home for Ellie Mae and moved her in that August where Kelly lovingly prepared her gourmet breakfasts of coconut cupcakes and bacon. Doug, a professional singer, often sang Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett tunes to Ellie Mae as he knew how much she enjoyed them. Consequently, each time Ellie Mae saw Doug, she would ask, “Are we going to get married now?” Kelly and Doug were hoping to have a few more years with Ellie Mae but sadly she passed away that November.  

“Taking care of Mom during those three months was the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” shares Kelly. “Alzheimer’s is an evil and terrible disease. Whereas it’s not as shocking as if you lose a loved one suddenly, it’s devastating to lose them in a slow progression.”  Kelly admits that she was not at all familiar with the Alzheimer’s Association® at the time when caring for her mother and relied heavily upon hospice. Doug and Kelly both believe that despite the difficulties they endured while caring for Ellie Mae, the experience changed them both. “While we may have not realized it at the time, we now know that we love better, show more compassion and are better people.” 

Soon after Ellie Mae’s passing, Kelly knew she needed to do something to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s. “My initial thoughts were to start a ministry. If I could help just one other person (caregiver) by learning through what we went through with my mom, I would feel some sense of accomplishment.” Ironically, Kelly saw a television commercial on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s®. She instantly knew that was her sign and discovered that the closest Walk was located 45 minutes away in Henderson County. “This [Walk] is something that I knew that I could do!”   

Last year Team Ellie Mae had between about six members. Their goal, like any walk team’s, was to raise as much money as possible. Between family support and Kelly’s connections as a real estate agent, Team Ellie Mae soared to the top raising $4,280 and earned the 2019 Top Fundraising Team Award! “I made lots and lots of phone calls asking for team donations,” admits Kelly. “The Alzheimer’s Association facts and figures don’t lie.  This disease is not slowing down and we need more help for caregivers.” With regards to the 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Henderson County taking place on September 26, Team Ellie Mae’s fundraising plans are duly underway. “I’ve got a lot of folks already saying ‘yes’!”

The Ramsays believe that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is both uplifting and celebratory.  They know first-hand that these walk events are representative of every person’s — whether they are the individuals who are living with the disease or their caregivers — journey with Alzheimer’s crippling effect on their lives.    

Through her involvement with Walk and the Alzheimer’s Association, Kelly has learned that the organization offers not only drives research but practical support for caregivers and ways to effectively communicate with those living with the disease.  The Ramsays’ lives seemed to be unraveling while caring for Kelly’s mom, but ultimately Ellie Mae was the catalyst for introducing  them to the Alzheimer’s Association  ~ perhaps a blessing in disguise.

Everyone has a reason for walking. Start your own team or join an existing team for one of our nineteen North Carolina walks:

The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s.

When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.

Register today at alz.org/walk and be the first to know about Walk in your area.

2020 WALK DATES

Alamance County – 9.26.20
Asheville – 10.10.20
Charlotte – 10.17.20
Fayetteville – 10.31.20
Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln – 9.12.20
Guilford County – 10.17.20
Henderson County – 9.26.20
Hickory – 10.24.20
Iredell County – 10.10.20
Jacksonville – 10.17.20
Moore County – 9.26.20
Mount Airy – 9.12.20
New Bern – 10.25.20
North Wilkesboro – 10.10.20
Robeson County – 10.24.20
Rowan-Cabarrus – 10.24.20
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) – 10.10.20
Wilmington – 11.7.20
Winston-Salem – 10.3.20

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