‘I wish grandma did not have Alzheimer’s’

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Grandma Yoak with family members (PHOTO: Yoak family photo)

RICHMOND, Va. — I, along with my brother and cousins, am a grandchild of Alzheimer’s.

My grandma Yoak died with this disease in 2011, just before Thanksgiving.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always an exciting day to the Yoak grandchildren for one selfish reason – the Sear’s Wish Book.

Each year, grandma would instruct all of us to circle five things we would like in the Wish Book and write our names beside them, then she would choose one to be each child’s present so it would still be a surprise.

We had no way influencing grandma’s choice, so if there was one present that you really wanted more than the others, all you could do was wish.

All we could do was wish.

By my teenage years, Sears stopped publishing the Wish Book and CDs and car accessories replaced toys on our Christmas lists.

Something else was different at Thanksgiving, too.

Grandma was becoming withdrawn, getting lost around town, forgetting how to cook familiar dishes.

We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what.

What we did know is that we wished Thanksgiving was the way it used to be, but all we could do was wish.

All we could do was wish.

By Thanksgiving 2007, Sears had revived the Wish Book, but it was a thin, pale shadow of its former self.

My cousins had ushered in the next generation of our family, but they didn’t gather round the Wish Book like we had in the 80’s. In fact, they didn’t know what a catalog was any more than they knew who their great grandma was.

They didn’t know the grandma who climbed trees and picked berries with us as children on the farm where she had raised five of her own. All they knew of grandma Yoak was the quite, pale woman in the corner, who may or may not speak, led from room to room by her children, grandpa coaxing her to eat.

We all wished that they could know the woman grandma had been, but all we could do was wish.

All we could do was wish.

For myself, my brother and my cousins, I still can’t do anything but wish that our grandma hadn’t been taken by Alzheimer’s. But for the next generation of children, I can do so much more than wish; I can hope.

That is something the Alzheimer’s Association has taught me and so many others.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest private funder of research on this disease in the world, and in just three decades, that research has taken us from first identifying physical hallmarks of Alzheimer’s – beta amyloid and tau protein in the brain – to current studies developing drugs that may actually change the course of this disease.

This pace is no accident; it is driven by the funding that this Association directly provides to research and our tireless efforts in advocacy for increasing federal research dollars.

The tangible evidence of this Association’s commitment to its vision, a world without Alzheimer’s, is my reason to hope.

But hope for the future isn’t all the Alzheimer’s Association offers.

Unlike many voluntary health organizations, we are there to provide support for those who are living with the disease now. There are approximately 26,000 people right here in our area that have this disease, and for each, there is a family affected, a spouse, siblings, children, and even grandchildren.

They need more than our wishes for their well-being; they need our hope, and that hope comes in the form of help:

  • The telephone helpline
  • The care consultations
  • The referral resources
  • The support groups
  • The caregiver training

All these services all there to offer the help, and foster the hope, that it takes to make it through each day.

Andrea Yoak is the president of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter. This speech published above was delivered at the Reason for Hope breakfast on April 15.

Andrea Yoak is the president of the Alzheimer's Association Greater Richmond Chapter.

Andrea Yoak is the president of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Richmond Chapter.

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