Of the more than 5.5 million Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, about 60,000 of them live here in the Capital Region. Some experts believe twice as many cases are undiagnosed. Our Matt Hunter has more on a local and nationwide effort to honor their caregivers.
ALBANY, NY – For three years Deborah D'Arcangelis and family members watched as her mother, Mary's, physical and mental health declined.
"She was a wonderful cook, she used to do everything for the family and little by little, she could no longer do any of those things," said D’Arcangelis.
With her mother unable to carry out her daily responsibilities, most of the burden fell on D’Arcangelis’ father.
"My dad was the primary caretaker and we helped as much as he would let us but it got increasingly difficult," she said.
It wasn't until weeks before her death at the age of 81 doctors diagnosed Mary with Lewy body dementia.
"It was heartbreaking,” D'Arcangelis said. “I have lost family members to cancer and as hard as that was I think this was much worse."
D'Arcangelis and a group of friends happened to be kayaking at Six Mile Waterworks on Monday at the same time a group from the Alzheimer's Association of Northeastern New York was there hosting an event for its Longest Day campaign.
"When I became aware of who was here in the park today, I just had to thank them for the work they do because it's a wonderful organization,” D'Arcangelis said.
"The Longest Day is our association's second signature fundraiser," said Beth Bovin, the Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York’s executive director.
Held from sun up to sun down on the longest day of the year, the national event honors the tireless efforts of Alzheimer's caregivers by raising awareness and funds.
"Often times you are doing this work, wonderful work, all for a person you love that at some point, maybe even now, doesn't remember who you are,” Boivin said. “So really, it's a difficult journey for an Alzheimer's caregiver."
Along with the kayaking trip, the local chapter organized a dozen events on Monday. Entree fees and donations from Shelly Studio of Bridge and Games’ Monday tournament went straight to the non-profit.
"We started it last year and had a very successful day and raised almost $1,300 for Alzheimer's that day," said bridge player Lynda Flanger.
Flanger came up with the idea to have the club participate in the Longest Day after a club she belonged to in South Carolina did the same a few years ago.
Further north in Clifton Park, a group of volunteers spent time with Alzheimer's patients at the Schuyler Ridge Nursing Home. Organizer Ben Giannetti's 97-year-old grandmother, Doris, is a resident there and he serves as the Alzheimer’s Association’s director of finance and operations.
"As much as we can help them out, as little as we can do and maybe we can bring some cheer to the resident, that was my idea behind our activity for the day," said Giannetti.
For those like D'Arcangelis who are among the countless Americans who have seen loved ones suffer, the day is a reminder they are not alone.
"I have been there, my family has been there and it was not easy at all,” D’Arcangelis said. “My prayers go out to them if they are still struggling with it."