When I asked my friend and colleague Kelly Vaughn Kramer to answer a few questions about Alzheimer’s disease and her upcoming Blondes vs. Brunettes Phoenix football game, a volunteer-driven event that helps support the Alzheimer’s Association, her response to one question, in particular, floored me.
ME: Why did you decide to participate in the inaugural Blondes vs. Brunettes event in Scottsdale?
KELLY: I chose to participate in Blondes vs. Brunettes for two reasons: 1. Football is awesome. 2. Football that raises money in support of Alzheimer’s research is even better. Those are the simple reasons. The deeper one is that I’m doing it for you. I’m in awe of what you do for your mother and how passionate you are about the Alzheimer’s Association, your blog and helping people like your mom. I guess in some regard, this is my way of saying thank you. You inspire me.
Until I opened the e-mail containing her reply, I had no idea that she was playing in next Saturday’s inaugural game, in part, because of me.
To be perfectly honest, I simply can’t articulate how her words touched me, so I’m not going to try because I can’t. Even though I’m a writer (allegedly). I mean, who says that? Who does that? Well, turns out, that’s what friends are for. Throughout the years, I have come to rely on a small group of friends for the occasional ear and/or shoulder. Kelly is one of those friends. And because we spend 40+ hours a week together, she is more than aware of my life story. So, whenever the floor has dropped out from under us — (again and again) — and I would come in to work tired and frustrated, or just plain over it, she would be there.
Thank you, Kelly… truly, no words.
Below, Kelly, a player on the brunette team, talks about the disease, her fundraising tactics (she’s raised a lot of money for the Alzheimer’s Association and is still fundraising, so whip out your credit cards), and what she’s learned about this terrible, heart-breaking disease:
Besides my experience, have you been touched by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias?
I certainly feel closest to your experience, but our nanny’s grandmother also has dementia. Sometimes, she likens helping care for her to caring for children, and that’s an interesting parallel to me — one to which I can certainly relate.
What have you learned about the disease that you found most surprising?
I think the sheer cost of caring for someone with the disease is staggering, and I’m alarmed that there aren’t programs to help mitigate the cost. It’s also disconcerting that Alzheimer’s deaths rose 68 percent between 2000 and 2010. What? That’s an epidemic, in my opinion, and I’m bothered that people don’t seem to pay as much attention to the disease as they do to other diseases.
There are a lot of stats about the effects of caregivers in the workplace and the toll it can take on work performance, etc. As colleagues, you know that I have had to take time off to take care of matters concerning my mom. What advice would you give to employers as more and more caregivers need flexibility to care for their loved ones?
It’s just that — be flexible. Who cares when the work gets done as long as it gets done? Nine to five works in some industries, but not all, and creating a supportive, flexible environment speaks to a progressive company. I also think that employers should foster an environment wherein caregivers feel comfortable talking about what circumstances they face and encourage caregivers to take a little time for themselves, too.
From a friend-standpoint, what advice would you give to those who maybe sometimes don’t know what to say — especially when things are just bad or there’s no clear light at the end of the tunnel?
That’s a tough one, because I think that, as a friend, the instinct is to try to fix what’s wrong. In these cases, you can’t. But maybe it goes a long way just to say, “Look. I don’t really know what to say. But I need you to know that I’m here to listen.” It’s also important to not take things personally. Caregivers go through a range of emotions, and just because they’re in a slump one day doesn’t mean that it has anything to do with you.
You did some serious fundraising. What tactics did you employ in your fundraising efforts?
Two words: Email blitz. Basically, I sent an email to most everyone I know and I had my husband send the email to philanthropic people in his company. I also took to social media to encourage people to donate. Even though I’ve surpassed my fundraising goal, I’m not stopping. I’m hoping to raise at least $200 more before the football game, and if I could cross the $1,000 mark, I’d do an end zone dance or two.
At the end of the day, what should people know about Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias?
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias touch far more people than you might imagine, whether directly or indirectly. That’s why it’s so important to keep having conversations about the disease. Maybe you haven’t had an experience with Alzheimer’s yet, but odds are that you will.