Taking on Alzheimers

Laura Gaddis’ mother hid cookies inside her pillowcase, like a child in an adult body. She would allow Gaddis to rub lotion only on her face, never her hands. She incessantly asked, Has the mail run?  

“Mama was 66 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For the last four years, she did not acknowledge us at all,” said Gaddis of the 12-year battle fought by her mother, Lina Mae Ferrell Edwards, and her father, William, whose early death Gaddis attributes to the strain of caregiving.

“She was a good mama,” a busy tobacco farmer’s wife in the Green Level/Carpenter area of Western Wake, and a nurse in a local doctor’s office, Gaddis said. “When you see someone you love go through this, you just want to help.”

Community support has built the success of Guardian Angel. All monies raised are donated to Alzheimer’s North Carolina at founder Laura Gaddis’ insistence, and are doled out as grants to area research facilities working to find treatments and a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Chances are, you’ve been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease too. It’s the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia, affecting 5.4 million people nationwide, two-thirds of them women. Early onset Alzheimer’s can even strike those in their 30s.

The sixth leading cause of death in our state and in the U.S., the disease has no known cause or cure, but Gaddis and others are doing their part to change that.

In 1999 Gaddis, then 57, opened a small donation-based thrift shop called Guardian Angel Thrift in Fuquay-Varina with help from family. Her goal was to raise $500 a year to donate to Alzheimer’s research.  

Today, Guardian Angel’s bustling Fuquay-Varina store stands at 26,000 square feet. Along with an Apex location added in 2012, the stores to date have generated $2.2 million for research and respite care, making them the lead donor to Alzheimer’s North Carolina.

“It’s important to me that the money stays in North Carolina,” Gaddis said, “and is given as grants to our wonderful research facilities here.”

Shari Stocks, operations manager for Guardian Angel Thrift and Gaddis’ daughter, says the growth of Guardian Angel is thanks to community support; many customers also share their own Alzheimer’s stories.

A new endowment fund has even been established, thanks to one generous donor who left her entire estate to Guardian Angel  for the cause.

Research is the answer to the mystery of Alzheimer’s, Gaddis says: “And maybe our little dime will help.”  

Alzheimer’s North Carolina

That “little dime” is indeed helping to further the mission of Alzheimer’s North Carolina, which provides education, support and services to families affected by the disease while raising funding toward finding treatment, prevention and a cure.

“When I began here in 1989, there were no medications for Alzheimer’s on the market, and we knew little about the disease,” said Alice Watkins, executive director of Alzheimer’s North Carolina. “Today we know that as long as we live we are individuals. We in the caregiving world want to know who the patient is, and the type of lifestyle they’ve had. Their basic personality will remain, depending on how they’re treated.”

Sandy Kirkland reacts to live music at the free Memory Café in Cary, held monthly to offer support to families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. Memory Café is a collaboration of the town’s five Rotary Clubs.

Watkins has seen the effects of the disease first-hand, how patients’ memories are gradually erased from newest to oldest, and how as inhibitions retreat patients say and do things that make others uncomfortable.

“And a patient with Alzheimer’s can no longer do ‘busy;’ they won’t fit into your timetable. That takes patience and time on the part of the caregiver,” Watkins said. “The key is to find humor, to laugh with them, not at them, if they’re not causing harm.”

Founded at Duke University in 1980, Alzheimer’s North Carolina broke from the national Alzheimer’s Association in 2009 in order to focus its research funding solely on our state. Its award-winning best-practices training program on dementia, titled Accepting the Challenge, is used worldwide to help both professional and family caregivers.  

Memory Café

In Cary, support for families facing Alzheimer’s disease comes through the free Memory Café, a collaboration between the town’s five Rotary Clubs.

Rotary International has a longstanding commitment to Alzheimer’s research through its Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

“Music is essential because it’s a unifier,” said organizer Brian Blum, standing. “It’s amazing to see someone who is not very interactive remember an old tune and start singing, or get up and dance spontaneously.”

Memory Café is held monthly at the Cary Senior Center, providing dinner, fellowship and music.

“Music is essential because it’s a unifier and important for people with all types of dementia, even those who are non-verbal,” said Rotarian and organizer Brian Blum. “It’s amazing to see someone who is not very interactive remember an old tune and start singing, or get up and dance spontaneously.”

Gary and Cheri Gray of Cary have been attending Memory Café for eight months now.

“Gary enjoys the music, and is so excited by the time we leave,” said Cheri. “It’s a good, safe environment where all is understood, and you can take as much time as you need to eat.”
Eileen and Bernhard Schneider, also of Cary, are regulars too.

“Excellent!” said Bernhard in his decidedly German accent. “We come one time, then all the time.”

“He loves it, and wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Eileen added. “Instead of trying to keep up with the conversation, here he gets to talk. We’ve made so many friends.”

On a recent evening, The Old School Band launched into singalong mode; around the room heads bobbed and fingers tapped on tables.

Gary closed his eyes, leaned back and sang heartily. Studying his happy face, Cheri smiled.

Find Help

Alzheimer’s North Carolina
(919) 832-3732 or alznc.org

Alzheimer’s Association, Eastern North Carolina Chapter
(919) 803-8285 or alz.org/nc

Memory Café, Cary

The Center for Volunteer Caregiving, Cary
(919) 460-0567 or volunteercaregiving.org

Triangle J Area Agency on Aging
(919) 549-0551 or tjaaa.org

Support the Cause

Guardian Angel Thrift
guardianangelthrift.org or new Android app

24th annual Triangle AlzNC Walk Saturday, Oct. 1
(919) 832-3732 or info@alznc.org

2016 Walk to End Alzheimer’s Saturday, Sept. 24

Us Against Alzheimer’s coalition for public advocacy

For Local Businesses

Learn simple techniques to better serve your customers with Home Instead Senior Care’s free, 30-minute Alzheimer’s Friendly BusinessSM training. AlzheimersFriendlyBusiness.com

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