Walk to End Alzheimer’s this weekend

Submitted Photo Family and friends of Debby Olson are joining together for the Minot Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday in Oak Park.

Two years ago, Chennille Currier, Williston, began noticing changes in her mother, Debby Olson.

“We realized something was… not right,” Currier said. “She was let go from a position in a field she’d worked in for 15 years, because she wasn’t catching on to the software.”

Other quirks were also notable, particularly because Olson had always been exceptional, Currier indicated.

“She was the best. She did everything. She worked 40 hours a week while we were growing up, made every meal and would make another meal for someone who needed it.”

A battery of tests followed, months of tests for countless conceivable ailments that could explain Olson’s condition. Then, in November 2015, Olson’s family was in for a shock.

“Doctors took us in a 10-by-10 room with the whole family there and gave us news no one was expecting. Mom had Alzheimer’s. It was not something we ever imagined was a possibility.”

Debby Olson was but 56-years-old when the diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s was presented to her family.

“We’d never thought of that because she was so young,” Currier said. “It took a long time to process that.”

Currier said that her mom’s condition has deteriorated over the past two years, with more pronounced cognitive impairment, even though Olson continues to live at home with her husband and with considerable caregiving assistance from Currier and her siblings.

“For us kids, it has been hard to deal with what all of this means,” Currier said.“We’re all in our 20s, have ideas of what life was going to be like. Situations like this throw those things off. We have to account that when our kids graduate from high school, mom might be there but not mentally, or she might not be there at all. We imagine what this will be like for our children. How will we explain it to one of our three-year-olds when mom doesn’t recognize them? There has been a huge change for us – from having plans in life to writing wills and trying to figure out how to deal with unthinkable things.”

Complicating the weight of caregiving, which is shared by family and friends, is the distinct different case Olson presents. After Olson’s own mother, who also had Alzheimer’s, died in April 2016, Currier said Olson’s condition worsened.

“We realized we needed help,” Currier said. “Being a caregiver takes a toll on you and we figured someone else out there had to be having some of the same experiences.”

Commonality was not easy to find. “We heard from people whose parents had Alzheimer’s, but it was different … their parents were in their 70s and 80s when the developed Alzheimer’s,” Currier said. “We started looking for people whose parents were also younger-onset.”

A friend suggested the Alzheimer’s Association, the family made contact and has been active in efforts to raise consciousness and funds since.

“They mentioned a walk in Minot and we knew we had to put a team together, and since then, we have been fundraising and getting very involved.”

Debby Olson’s family has compiled an 18-member team to the Minot Walk to End Alzheimer’s Saturday beginning at Oak Park with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Nearly 200 walkers are anticipated to participate. In 2016, this Walk raised over $27,000, contributing to the millions raised nationwide for care, support and research for those impacted by Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a particular challenge in North Dakota. North Dakota has the second highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America, and was just named the No. 2 neurology “desert” nationwide in July at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. This is a disease that impacts 14,000 North Dakotans, who are living with Alzheimer’s, and thousands more who are their caregivers, family or friends.

Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today and as many as 16 million will have the disease in 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to total $259 billion in 2017, increasing to $1.1 trillion by mid-century. Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Despite their challenges, Currier said her family is committed to supporting awareness, research and those in similar circumstances.

“At this point, if someone doesn’t bring awareness of the disease, it will literally kill our generation,” Currier said.

For more information, visit alz.org/walk.