Answering The Call

As a speech-language pathologist in Kentucky, Nancy Swigert took her professional calling seriously. She spent her career evaluating patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of memory loss or other cognitive ability loss in individuals who maintain the ability to independently perform most activities of daily living. She counseled families on ways to maximize communication and worked with the local hospital’s speech department and neurologists in forming an outpatient memory care clinic. “I worked with the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in conducting presentations for families with loved ones in the early, mid and late stages of the disease and the respective challenges of each,” shares Nancy. “We would talk a lot about swallowing problems, communication changes, and teaching the families strategies of coping mechanisms throughout.”

A calling of a different nature

Then in the mid-2000s, Nancy’s professional interest sadly became more personal when her mother began showing significant signs of memory loss. “I had a private practice and my mom June, or lovingly known as Mrs. B., was the front desk person. Nancy’s practice worked with a good number of children, and it was much easier for three, four and five-year-olds to come in the office and say “Hi, Mrs. B.,” recalls Nancy. “We initially noticed subtle changes such as an increase in Post-It® Notes around her desk. The progression in June’s memory lapses led to Nancy’s practice bouncing checks; her mom could not understand why. After some searching, they found the bank deposit in the glove box of her mom’s car as she had forgotten to go to the bank. The reality check for Nancy though was the day her mom came home and said that she did not get her haircut as they moved the beauty parlor. June insisted that she drove up and down the entire road multiple times; however, June did not realize that that she was driving on the wrong road. “We took mom to see a neurologist that she had previously seen due to frequent migraines, and he diagnosed the MCI. When we tried to discuss it with her, she wanted no part of it as she was in complete denial,” says Nancy.   

Widowed at age 53, June had become an independent person. Prior to her husband’s terminal illness, June was a stay at home mom. Upon his diagnosis, she went back to work, supported herself and worked up until she was no longer able to care for herself. “Mom could be feisty and wasn’t afraid to tell you what she thought,” adds Nancy.  June nonetheless loved her family with abandon. After she was widowed, June would get up at the crack of dawn every Christmas morning, and her car would be packed to the brim. She would drive two hours north to the home of Nancy’s brother where all the grandkids were.  She considered herself to be one of Santa’s helpers each year.

 As June’s condition progressed, she was able to remain at home for several years with the help of Nancy and her son providing extra support. Nancy and her husband, Keith, labeled all the items for her in her house. Nancy would go to her mother’s home each Sunday evening, and plan her outfits for each day of the week.  Nancy would call June when it was time for her to eat, and remained on the phone while she microwaved her meal to make sure her mom didn’t have any questions. June remained otherwise healthy and volunteered at the hospital where Nancy worked. She took a community shuttle which conveniently negated any arguments over June’s ability to drive there. She enjoyed passing out flowers and greeting visitors. This structured scenario with four to five calls daily served as a viable option for everyone for about two years. Eventually, June then moved in with Nancy’s brother and his family at his request. Nancy affirms that the scenario was perfect in that June was able to read storybooks to her great-grandchild, as well as, live in a loving environment that kept a watchful eye over her. If her brother had not stepped up to care for their mom, she would have had to otherwise move into a skilled nursing facility. Ironically, June passed away in the same hospital where she volunteered on September 16, 2015 at the age of 92. She had developed pneumonia and her conditioned deteriorated shortly thereafter. 

Looking back, Nancy wishes she had known the variety of complimentary services that the Alzheimer’s Association offers, particularly the 24- hour, seven day a week, helpline (800-272-3900). “Since my brother dealt with mom late at night saying she wanted to go see her mom or confusing him with her deceased husband, I did not know to tell him, ‘Hey, you can call someone to help you handle this situation’ and it be 2 am,” admits Nancy. She believes that’s another reason why she’s become so passionate about being a volunteer community educator for the Association. Nancy believes it’s important for her to take an active role in sharing the message not only about the Association but also about the great resources it offers. 

Asheville Calls

Visits to Asheville were initially a two to three times a year getaway for Nancy and her husband who enjoy hiking. As practicing vegans, the town is rich in eateries tailor-made for their taste buds. After June passed, Nancy and her husband, Keith, had the option to retire anywhere and made the decision to settle in the mountains of Asheville they had come to love. Nancy had been involved with the Walk To End Alzheimer’s in Lexington, and therefore wanted to become involved in Asheville as well. According to Nancy, there’s a 60-acre lake that you see when you first come into the community they live in, so it made sense that she’d formalize a Walk team called the Biltmore Lakers.  There are currently 36 team members and they’ve walked each year since 2018. 

The Biltmore Lakers have successfully raised between $10 – $15K each year. While they sold aprons one year as a fundraiser, Nancy found that what works best in her community is just simple outreach and asking the homeowners to donate. There’s an e-newsletter, The Lakesider, and beginning each late spring/early summer, Nancy rotates information about the Association’s care and support programs, Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Asheville, and the walk team on a bi-weekly basis. An additional key effort is that Nancy sends personal thank you notes to everyone who walked on the team the previous year. She took the team’s top fundraisers to lunch last year solely to share her appreciation.  

Biltmore Lakes is a very generous community, and Nancy firmly believes that it’s the individuals that share their personal Alzheimer’s journeys who are the most successful in raising funds for Walk. Sending friends and family emails as well has launching a Walk Facebook Fundraiser have also been effective in fundraising and heightening awareness. “I would say that if you’re not used to fundraising, that may sound kind of scary,” shares Nancy. “But one thing I learned a long time ago, is that people give money because of who asked them.” She adds that if you’ve got an interest or a passion around Alzheimer’s and you think the Alzheimer’s Association does good work, it’s easy to get involved.  You can find a team or start your own — a team can be you and your family and friends. 

Serving again as the Biltmore Lakers Team Captain, Nancy is looking forward to this year’s Walk taking place on on October 8 at Pack Square Park in Asheville. Her favorite parts about the walk includes the stories at the beginning, where loved ones tell everyone of whom they are walking in honor or memory. Nancy believes the promise garden flowers, which each represent a different connection to the disease, create a great sense of community when you see other people who have the same color flower that you do. It also offers an opportunity to have a conversation with them. “It’s most rewarding to look around and see the number of people who are in the same boat or have been in the same boat,” says Nancy. “There are so many people who are aware of how important the Walk To End Alzheimer’s is, why we need the research, and why we need the care and support programs,” Nancy remarks. “I love walking up to people in the middle of the Walk to ask ‘Why are you walking?’ and find that it reaffirms what you already knew — Alzheimer’s touches almost everybody.”

LIKE NANCY & THE BILTMORE LAKERS, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today as an individual, team, or sponsor.

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We will continue to closely monitor CDC, state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to the latest recommendations.

Alamance County9/24/2022
Guilford County10/15/2022
Henderson County9/24/2022
Iredell County9/24/22
Moore County10/1/2022
Mount Airy09/10/2022
New Bern10/22/2022
Unifour (formerly Hickory)10/29/2022
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham)10/15/22

Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping and neither are we.

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