Daughter will participate in Alzehimer’s walk to honor her mother.

August 19, 2016
Mary Olson, right, with her mother, Jennifer Osmolski.

Mary Olson, right, with her mother, Jennifer Osmolski.

#WalkToEndAlzheimers

Mary Olson is on a mission to educate those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. She will be joining hundreds of other families at the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Ludington on September 17 to raise funds and awareness for the disease that her mother was diagnosed with six years ago at the age of 62. According to Olson the symptoms started long ago, but for many years, the family chalked her mother’s memory issues up to stress or normal aging.

“About 10 years ago, I started noticing really uncharacteristic behaviors,” Mary says. “It wasn’t so much the memory loss; we were used to her repeating questions and telling stories again. This was more behavioral, which was what finally made us think ‘This can’t just be stress.’”

Mary’s mother, Jennifer Osmolski. a college-educated former school teacher at Manistee Catholic Central, began taking an unusually long time to shower and get dressed, which Mary later realized was because she was forgetting how to perform those basic daily tasks. She also started forgetting what medications she was taking or why she was taking them, started washing dishes with her hands, and would sometimes put shoes on the wrong feet or forget one shoe altogether.

Difficulty completing familiar tasks is one of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which impacts over 5 million Americans, including 180,000 Michiganders. Women are at the heart of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, as almost two-thirds of those with the disease are women. Not only are women more likely to have Alzheimer’s, they are also more likely to be caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s, a role that often comes with other consequences like higher health-care costs, loss of income, and increased stress.

Mary knows the stresses of caregiving all too well. For the past decade, she has been a ‘sandwich generation’ caregiver, defined as a generation of people responsible for bringing up their own children while caring for their aging parents. Marys says that between caring for her own sons, ages 9 and 7, and caring for her mother, she has spent the entire decade of her 30s caring for people. “It’s been hard for me physically. Emotionally, I miss having a mom. It’s like she’s here with us, but she’s not.”

Mary urges others to educate themselves, and to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association for education and support. She says the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is an excellent place to gather information and learn about the disease, as well as meet other caregivers going through the journey.

Mary’s mother can no longer speak, and requires round-the-clock care. Although her mother is still living, she says it’s hard not to refer to her mom in the past tense. “She’s a shell of my mom, but she does still smile and then there’s a moment when you see her in there,” says Mary. “No one really knows what the world is like through the eyes of someone living with Alzheimer’s. I pray she’s calm inside; that she feels God’s presence and the Holy Spirit in her. That she’s not agitated. That she feels loved.”

To sign up for the walk or learn more about memory loss, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.

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