Alzheimer's: walking for memory

Usually, I start my day with yoga, and then walk later in the day or evening.

Today I walked early, in the Alzheimer’s Association 3 mile Memory Walk.

By the time I got home, in time for lunch, I already had nine of my ten thousand steps for the day.


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It was a fun morning.

I went with Glenda Dyson. Her mother and mine are dorm mates in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon Assisted Living.

Glenda is also a customer of ours.  She advertises her store, Just the Thing, in Coffee News.  Just the Thing carries educational games and toys for children — and for their teachers and parents.

I first met Glenda when I was technology facilitator at Rockwell Elementary School.  She taught kindergarten.

Interestingly enough, another woman in our little group of Carillon walkers was also a former kindergarten teacher.  She taught 32 years and said she would have taught a few more years but retired so that she could spend more time caring for her mother.

Kindergarten teachers have the extreme patience and kindness that make them particularly good at taking care of mothers with Alzheimer’s.

In some ways, a person with Alzheimer’s is not unlike a small child.

Besides raising money for The Alzheimer’s Association, in order to find better treatments and hopefully a cure for Alzheimer’s, the value in a walk like this was the sheer emotional support it offers those going through this.

At least that was helpful for me.

A three mile walk gives you a little time to compare notes.

For example, I found that I’m not the only one who knows what it’s like to visit the ER three times in four days (and four times in two weeks) because a mother fell and hit her head.

This happens to a lot of people.

I will say that the pace was a little brisk for me.  I thought I walked pretty fast, but I don’t.  These ladies walked at a clip that had me huffing and puffing.

In the Alzheimer’s unit, women dramatically outnumber the men — presumably because they live longer.  Maybe they live longer because they walk faster!

a memory walk

Took a pleasant walk tonight, right after dinner.  I needed a couple of miles in order to complete my daily 10k steps.

It was a perfect temperature for walking.  The soft rain kept people inside, and made the evening dark and quiet.  The slick streets reflected the glow of the street lamps. I remember seeing two students walk through the campus parking lot with umbrellas.  Other than that, I had the streets to myself.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to audio books.  Sometimes I walk with my wife, or my dog.  But I often walk alone and listen to the sounds of the city, or the woods, and give myself space to think, or not think.  It’s good for my spirit, and better for my head, if I enjoy the time away from noise (especially my own noise).

I love walking this time of year.  When it’s too cold, or too wet, I walk in the mall, or even Walmart.  If it’s hot, I walk late at night, usually on dewey grass, after the earth has cooled.  But April, for me, is far from cruel; it’s one of those perfect months.

Usually I’m quite eager to hit my 10k steps goal each day, but tonight I watched the latter half of Glee with my wife and daughter and didn’t feel particularly enthused about rising from the couch and finishing those steps in the rain.  But it’s a compulsion, and I did it.

It was one of those days.  I had worked a good bit, driven to Mooresville to drop off papers, driven to Kannapolis to pick up my car, and visited my mother twice, briefly, in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon.  While there, I also had a nice visit with my neighbor.  We’ve lived only a few feet away for 24 years, and she recently moved into the assisted living.  Today’s conversation is probably the longest one we’ve ever had.  I also had a few rather knotty conversations with siblings and health care folks.

As I walked tonight, I was thinking about my mother, whose dementia, for various reasons, has progressed quite rapidly these past couple of weeks.

The thought that came into my head was a book, and a memory.

It’s a common memory, one shared by millions and millions of people.

I remember, as a child, sitting beside my mother on the living room couch, listening to her read me a book — The Little Engine That Could — one of the most popular bedtime books ever read to children by their mothers.

It occurred to me that she set a good example of a little engine that could.

Me?  I’ve had it easy and complained a lot.  But she grew up poor in a Great Depression and World War.  Her parents spoke with an accent.  She had a somewhat ethnic name before ethnic was fashionable, and lived above a downtown store, before that was fashionable.  She once told me that her parents never took a vacation.

She had some ability and fulfilled her potential.  She was a star student and a star reporter.  She raised a large family.  Those who know her would confirm that she was a workaholic.

She’s a person who, when her mother had cancer, would take her to see her sisters in Latvia one last time.  Visiting relatives in the Soviet Union in the 70’s required a bit of scrutiny — and passports and visas, which they did not have.  And because she couldn’t wait weeks to get them, she would go to Washington D.C. and knock on doors and return in three days, with passports and visas.

She’s quite weak now, and has virtually lost her ability to speak.  But she still moves around as much as she can, shuffling through the halls of Carillon, investigating every nook and cranny, speaking to others who are similarly afflicted with Alzheimer’s, offering to give those in wheelchairs a helpful push.

Last night, as I slowly walked the halls with her, watching her point at various pictures and rooms and books and papers and people, I couldn’t help but to admire her energy, her desire to keep moving in such a confined but seemingly vast space.

And tonight, as I walked down my street, noticing, across the vacant lot, in the distance, that home I grew up in, thinking about her and how she’s declined so quickly in recent weeks and days, I enjoyed a vivid memory of her reading me that book she and so many mothers read their children, and realized that she was and still is the one who really lives up to that creed:  “I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.”