Finding Joyful Moments in the Midst of Alzheimer’s Journey

Donia Schmiege remembers her mom as being “controlled and conservative… always staying in her lane.” She never wore ‘above-the-knee’ dresses or red lipstick. Donia laughs when she fails to find another word besides “bible thumper” to describe her kind and devoted mom, Mary. Her mom was always a leader in her community, teaching Sunday School and organizing the local girl scout troop.

When Donia’s father passed away, Mary’s daughters started noticing things weren’t quite right. Confusion about overnight boarding of Mary’s dog would cause extreme panic and theft accusations. Scratches on her car meant she wasn’t driving very well anymore and her reflexes were slowing down. “She left raw chicken in the silverware drawer,” remembers Donia. During this time, Donia admits that her first thought was that her mom just needed more attention. Her distance insulated her from the little changes in her mom. “As her disease progressed,” Donia shares, “we realized that this was our new reality. It made my brother and sister and I learn to communicate more closely.” Mary eventually needed to move in with Donia’s sister in Missouri. She attended an adult day care center until the pandemic hit earlier this year. Mary found herself a ‘job’ at the center, helping those less physically able to eat and folding laundry.

Donia acknowledges that caring for her mom is difficult on her whole family. She and her siblings are attempting to strike a balance between keeping their mom safe and “not [becoming] us against the parent.” She is thankful that her mom has a care team of doctors that are knowledgeable and skilled at communicating with her mom in a way that makes her feel heard and respected, but also healthy. During this pandemic, she needed to get cataract surgery and her family worried about the visitation policy. However, the physician made exceptions to have Donia there so she could take notes about recovery care if Mary didn’t have the capacity (although this did become an argument with her mom when this visit came). To help provide support and guidance, Donia’s sister has connected with an Alzheimer’s Association support group to connect with other local caregivers, joining at first to get advice about how to make her home safe before Mary moved in.

Out of all the terrible symptoms of her journey through Alzheimer’s; however, one stark difference has been a surprising joy for Donia. While her mother is 79 years old, she consistently believes herself to be in her 30s, and has the joy and carefree attitude to match. “Every time I call she squeals with delight as if I am a long lost friend,” remarks Donia fondly, “she is an absolute joy to be around.” Mary now has leopard print bed sheets and sequined shirts and has even been known to record a ‘TikTok’ dance or two.

This is Donia’s first Walk to End Alzheimer’s season after seeing an advertisement for the event online, she signed up for the Fayetteville Walk taking place on October 31 . Even through these are difficult times, Donia has managed to successfully fundraise online and at her job at the courthouse. She has had specific success with the suggested Walk BINGO game, finding it an easy and approachable way to collect funds to support her walk team, Forget Me Nots for Momma, already raising over $500 in her first year. When asked if she has advice for other fundraisers, she just says simply “Be transparent with your life and story. We don’t do anyone any favors by hiding who we are. Even if we are going through hard times, we have people around to support us.” She shares her mom’s story, both the awful and funny parts, with each donor so they can know her personal connection. Even those some might not know anyone with Alzheimer’s, she is seeing that this disease has affected way more people than she thought possible.

Donia has big plans for this walk day. She has had her grand champion sign up in her yard for a while garnering support. Donia plans to get up in the morning and go on a walk around her neighborhood. Then after a hair appointment downtown, she plans to walk around the city center and visit local businesses to share awareness and raise more funds. She laughs as she shares that she “usually makes noise wherever [she] goes,” so she imagines walk day will be no different. Raising support for her walk team is of the utmost importance to Donia because “although undiagnosed, I suspect it affected my grandmother, my mom has it, and it could get to my siblings, me, my daughters. It’s something we need to plan for. It’s real, and it’s there, and we need to deal with it as individuals and a society.” Donia walks to fight the stigma of this disease and so that we “find a cure and answers NOW, not 50 years from now.”

LIKE DONIA WE ALL HAVE A REASON FOR WE ARE FIGHTING FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Start your own team or join an existing team for one of our nineteen North Carolina Walk to End Alzheimer’s events:

The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is everywhere — on every sidewalk, track and trail. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We won’t have a large in-person gathering — instead, we invite you to walk in small teams of friends and family while others in your community do the same. Because we are all still walking and fundraising for the same thing: a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

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 join the movement.

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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