Volunteering for change

For this past week’s Alzheimer’s Association volunteer week, we want to feature a special volunteer that puts her heart and soul in helping educate and bring awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

Jacquelyn Patterson, a retired Fulton County biological science teacher, was born in Fort Valley and is a current resident of Fairburn, GA. She volunteers in the Association’s outreach programs and is currently completing her practicum for a professional doctorate in public health.

She first got involved with the Association when she got overwhelmed caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s and first made an emotional call to the helpline.

“I was my mother’s caregiver, I became overwhelmed with the challenges of caregiving. I did not know what to do,” Jacquelyn said. “I think in 2009 I called the Alzheimer’s helpline and talked and cried. I do not remember her [the moderator’s] name; her voice was comforting to me.”

Her mother was not the only one to have Alzheimer’s disease; it has run through Jacquelyn’s family for generations.

“I have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. My grandfather, and my grandfather’s family, [had it],” she said. “The family took care of them.”

At first, they didn’t even know what it was.

“During that time the family accepted the condition as a part of aging, we used the term for their condition ‘senile’ or a ‘little out of touch’; we did not realize it is a disease of the brain,” Jacquelyn said.

The disease hit even closer to home, when her mother, father, and aunts all developed late onset Alzheimer’s.

“My mother had nine sisters, three [of whom] are still alive,” she said. “One of the three is in a care facility diagnosed with dementia, one is in early stage dementia, and the youngest has no visible symptoms yet.”

Since the vast amount of diagnoses in her family, Jacquelyn has vowed to spend her time and energy to help those with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers and families.

Jacquelyn volunteering at Atlanta Pride Week

“I made an effort to pursue a Professional Doctorate in Public Health (DrPh), to become knowledgeable about this disease, other chronic diseases, and how to implement health literacy in communities,” she said.

Jacquelyn realizes that African American populations are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and hopes to bring health education to their communities.

“Statistics state African Americans are at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, which I saw from my personal family experience,” she said. “My cause involves bring awareness to communities, especially the hard to reach communities [like] African Americans and other isolated populations.”

Jacquelyn said one of the hardest things about Alzheimer’s was watching it change the people she knew and loved.

“Experiencing my loved ones transition through the stages, I wanted to ensure no one would not know what to do,” she said.

She cites recent statistical data from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Center for Disease Control as what she plans to focus on in her volunteer endeavors to support the Association.

She says there is a need to:

“1) Increase Alzheimer’s awareness in communities and about caregiving of persons suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia,” and;

“2) To increase utilization of the Alzheimer’s Association support services, such as the helpline, to manage caregiver stress, understand how to respond to AD dementia-related behaviors, and improve caregivers’ well beings and delay dementia patients’ early admissions to nursing homes.”

Jacquelyn’s volunteer involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association within outreach programs includes speaking at events and ceremonies, attending the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and hosting promotional and awareness booths.

Besides volunteer activities within the Alzheimer’s Association, Jacquelyn branches out to find even more opportunities to bring Alzheimer’s awareness to communities.

She reaches out to faith-based organizations and is a local Christian Education Auxiliary superintendent and attends the ICEA, International Christian Education Auxiliary, with an Alzheimer’s Association booth filled with brochures, packets, and useful information for attendees to take home with them.

Jacquelyn says the only way to change the path of Alzheimer’s disease is to develop medicine for treatment and prevention and face the impact this disease has on society.

“[This] includes community partnering with healthcare professionals, academic institutions, and research participants, and modifying legislative laws based on evidence-based data,” she said.

Jacquelyn also quoted Benjamin Franklin in saying, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected by Alzheimer’s are as outraged as those who are.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities across Georgia, visit alz.org/georgia

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