By Cai Yoke, Advocacy Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter
The Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter is thrilled to announce that the 2020 Legislator of the Year has been awarded to Representative Sharon Cooper of the 43rd district, for her work on HB 987 and her tireless efforts to improve the standards of care in Georgia’s assisted living facilities and memory care units.
For the past few years, advocates and leaders in the aging community have identified the critical need for addressing the standards of care in Georgia’s senior care industry. This fight to secure senior care reform garnered significant momentum in the fall of 2019, when an investigative series authored by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered patterns of neglect and abuse in assisted living facilities and memory care centers throughout the state.
In seeing these troubling reports, Rep. Sharon Cooper immediately rolled up her sleeves and went to work, collaborating with constituents, advocates, aging organizations, and care providers themselves to imagine and create a bill that would adequately address and prevent the problems many constituents were enduring in these facilities.
That bill would become HB 987, and as its primary co-sponsor, Rep. Cooper would prove to be absolutely instrumental in addressing and resolving the many obstacles we encountered as the bill made its way through the state legislature, including the abrupt adjournment of the legislative session due to COVID-19.
Due to Rep. Cooper persistence and tenacity and the efforts of hundreds of advocates throughout the state, including the 90 advocates who came to the Capitol in early March to urge their Senators to pass the bill, HB 987 was signed into law in June and will take effect July 1, 2021. In its passage, HB 987 establishes a framework for memory care in Georgia and establishes important training, staffing, and regulations that will radically improve the quality of care in these settings.
After receiving the Legislator of the Year Award, Rep. Sharon Cooper thanked advocates for all their work to ensure this bill’s success:
“Thank you for this special recognition and thank you to all the advocates who came to the Capitol and talked to the Representatives and Senators – hearing it from people who are dealing with Alzheimer’s makes all the difference in the world. HB987 was one of the hardest bills I have ever worked on, yet so rewarding.”
Despite this landmark victory, we know we still have much to accomplish to ensure that Georgians affected by dementia receive the care and support services they need. We are so proud and so excited to move forward in this fight with champions like Representative Sharon Cooper, and with our incredible and dedicated advocates!
New interactive series offers conversations between experts and dementia caregivers
Join us as the Alzheimer’s Association across Georgia and the Carolinas brings together area health care experts and dementia caregivers. Each Ask the Expertseries will take place on Facebook Live and allow opportunity for participants to ask questions during the live event. Each event will have a different topic.
ASK THE EXPERT – COGNITIVE ASSESSMENTS: PART 1
Friday, September 11 FROM 2:00 – 2:30 p.m.
As we age, it’s important for healthcare providers to have a baseline for our complete wellness, including brain health. Cognitive assessments help providers measure your brain health and track changes. If you’re having concerns about your memory and questioning how to talk about it with your provider, join us for an interactive series on September 11 with Dr. Monica Parker as she addresses cognitive assessments and the Annual Medicare Wellness Visit.
Monica Parker, MD
Emory University School of Medicine
Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
How to participate in this event
To join this event live, mark your calendar and go to the Association’s Georgia Chapter Facebook pages at 2 PM on Friday, September 11.
Join us online for our Walk to End Alzheimer’s Pep Rallies taking place across Georgia. The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s disease. While this year’s event will not be a large, in-person gathering, we are still walking on every street, path and trail.
Get all the details you need for Walk day by attending our online Pep Rally for your local Walk. You’ll also hear inspiring stories from others walking in the community and learn about helpful tools and resources to boost your fundraising.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS TO JOIN IN THE FUN ON SCREEN!
Attend your PEP RALLY on the day of the event through the links below:
The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is everywhere — on every sidewalk, track and trail.Your health and safety are our top priorities. We won’t have a large in-person gathering — instead, we invite you to walk in small teams of friends and family while others in your community do the same. Because we are all still walking and fundraising for the same thing: a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.
There are 21 walk taking place across Georgia. Register for one today at georgiawalk.org and join the movement.
The Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association today announced that Cynthia Widner Wall will be the newest board chair of the organization. Board members work to promote the organization and its many events to raise funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research programs.
Cynthia Widner Wall or Cindy, is committed to her community and serves several not for profit organizations. Her involvement in organizations and causes related to Health and Welfare, Art and Theatre, Education, Diversity and Inclusion, and Business allow her a kinship for the people, needs and interests of our community. Including the Alzheimer’s Association, she serves on the boards of Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Woodruff Art Center’s Alliance Theatre and Shepherd Center Foundation.
“Alzheimer’s is an individual and unique journey”, added Cindy. “But not a journey that has to be traveled alone. The Alzheimer’s Association supported and helped me on my journey with my Daddy.”
Cindy’s commitment to the Alzheimer’s Association became personal in 2009 when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and even more direct when he came to live with Cindy and her husband James in 2013. In 2014, she was a Celebrity Dancer for the Alzheimer’s Association Dancing Stars Atlanta. Then in 2015, as Chair of Dancing Stars, she significantly set the bar higher in fundraising to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. She joined the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Board in 2016.
“The journey of Alzheimer’s is unique to the one suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregiver and is a journey no one should face alone”, says Cindy. “When Daddy was with me, I was frequently asked how I could be helped in caring for my father. My response was consistent in that I did not know because I was solely focused on my Daddy’s needs”. Cindy also stated that she knows she was blessed to have a loving husband, caring daughters, and supportive caregivers to ensure her father was well taken care off. “As a caregiver, I appreciate the Alzheimer’s Association for the focus on research for a cure, the resources and information made available and the numerous friends she finds within the group.
Cindy has more than 43 years’ experience in the financial services industry, including 24 years in investments management and 15 years assisting affluent clientele. Cindy retired from Wachovia Securities after 25 years having started with First National Bank of Atlanta, was Wealth Director for BB&T Wealth Management for 6 years, and Wealth Director for PNC Wealth Management for 7 years. Her career has focused on the client experience and providing creative solutions to meet her clients financial and legacy planning. She has most recently taken time to consult with one of her nonprofit interest in the early stage of a capital campaign.
“We simply cannot achieve our goals without volunteers like Cindy”, added Linda Davidson, Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter Executive Director. “Cindy brings not only her philanthropic spirit to the Association but remarkable business skills to our board of directors”, she added.
Cindy has been married to Savannahian, James Wall for 42 years. They have two daughters, Amanda and Catherine, and enjoy having them live nearby. While Savannah will always be a special part of their lives, Atlanta has been home for 25 years.
The Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association elected new board members including Atlanta residents Spencer Graves, Debbie Levin, Bruce Swain and Dr. Frank Jones. From Macon area, Arthena Caston and John Rowland and from Columbus, Dr. Jonathan Liss.
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease – the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Additionally, more than 16 million family members and friends provide care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In Georgia alone, there are more than 150,000 people living with the disease and 540,000 caregivers.
To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, visit alz.org/Georgia or call 1-800-272-3900.
Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth-leading cause of death in Georgia.
More than five million Americans are living with the disease, including 150,000 Georgia residents — a number estimated to grow to as many as 190,000 by year 2025.
More than 16 million family and friends, including 540,000 in Georgia, provide unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in the United States.
In 2019, friends and family of those with Alzheimer’s in Georgia provided an estimated 615 million hours of unpaid care, a contribution valued more than $8 billion.
The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®. For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900. Connect on Facebook and Twitter.
After retirement, moving to a farm was a dream come true for Robert (Bob) and Georgia (Maisie) Compton. A retired engineer and avid Lionel train collector, Bob loved farm life, including mowing and taking care of the animals. Maisie loved horseback riding and always wanted to have horses at home. A 69-acre farm in Dawson County was the perfect place for them to live out their lives together.
Ada Holley, Compton’s daughter and neighbor at the farm, recalls, “My parents moved out there in 1988. My dad loved having a farm and hosting company at the farm. Sometimes people would show up to the farm that he hadn’t told my mom about. We had 4-wheelers, and he would drive everyone all around the property. One day we had bankers out to the house, and one of them had on a skirt and stilettos. Didn’t matter to dad, he took her out on the 4-wheeler anyway. They had a great time!”
Continues Holley, “My husband and I eventually built a house on the next hill over from my parents in 1999. Our kids were in second and fifth grade when we moved out to the farm. They loved it. Our boys grew up driving tractors and riding horses. They loved spending time with their grandparents learning about farming, animals, and grandpa’s trains.”
A train enthusiast, Compton would often have his friends over, and they would bring their grandchildren to run the trains together. He also loved playing trains with his children and grandchildren. “When I was a child, dad would buy all sorts of Lionel train sets. We had a room in the house where he would build these elaborate train sets. It was realistic, with little cars and people. My kids played with it and loved it. At one point, I remember seeing my dad start to struggle with his trains, and it was hard to take,” recalls Holley.
In 2007, Holley and her family (mom, three brothers, and all of the spouses) began noticing other unusual behaviors in Compton. Together, they decided to seek out medical help. “I started getting regular calls from my mother that dad had left the gate open. The horses had gotten out, or he had turned on the water and left it running overnight. The well went dry. We knew something wasn’t right. When we got the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it was a relief, but it was far from over,” says Holley.
For many families, the diagnosis merely confirms suspicions, it doesn’t resolve the issue. To understand and educate themselves on Compton’s disease, Holley and her mother sought out support. “My mother and I started going to an Alzheimer’s Association support group the year my father was diagnosed. Dad was being verbally abusive to family members and acting strange at times. We were unsure how to cope with that,” continues Holley.
Holley and her mother began attending a support group in the Big Canoe area. The information they found and their group members helped them through a difficult time. Says Holley, “People are scared about the disease. The more you get educated, the less scared you are. It helped us so much to learn what happens in the brain that causes this to happen. Once you can understand and physically know what is causing it, you can take the emotions out of it. It’s the disease, not my dad being cruel or mean to me. People are thrown into this moment with zero expectations, so educating yourself is paramount. It’s stressful. My relationship with my mother changed, too. We handled it differently. It is difficult for her, many spouses get angry about the disease. These groups make you feel less isolated or alone in your feelings.”
In 2009, after a series of events, the family decided to move Compton into a memory care facility in Johns Creek. Recalls Holley, ”Mom couldn’t keep him safe on the farm, and we couldn’t keep the farm safe from him. Mom was so busy trying to run the farm as dad couldn’t keep up with equipment orders, etc. There were arguments because things needed to be done, but dad couldn’t recognize that. My brothers and I felt that the burden of caregiving on Mom had become too great. We put him in memory care earlier than a lot of people do, but we made the right decision as a family.”
Continues Holley, “While we all agreed it was time, the adjustment was difficult as he really just wanted to come home. We chose this location after looking at dozens of spots. It was convenient for our other family members. It was only a memory care facility, and there was no assisted living. Meaning, once the door shut, the residents could go anywhere in the building. This gave my dad so much more freedom and independence.”
Continues Holley, “Eventually, he got comfortable there. He had buddies, they would watch football. Dad loved being social, and there was a lot of socializing. He ended up loving it there, and they loved him well. Mom regained her independence, too. She had stopped riding horses because she couldn’t leave dad alone in the house.
Meanwhile, Holley and her mom continued attending and thriving in their Alzheimer’s support group. So much so, that Holley took on a leadership role. “The woman who led our groups had a mother who passed from Alzheimer’s and her father became ill. She asked me to step in and help her as a co-facilitator. When her father eventually passed, she decided not to continue facilitating the group, and so I became the lead facilitator. The Big Canoe group split into two others. One still meets in the Big Canoe area and the other in the Bent Tree area. I now run both groups, volunteering several hours a month for the Alzheimer’s Association,” says Holley.
When Compton passed in September of 2019, Holley felt compelled to continue facilitating the support groups. The education she and her mother received was helpful, but it was the friendship and community that kept them going. Says Holley, “We are pretty tight; there are a lot of people who have been attending for a long time. We have one attendee whose mother passed from Alzheimer’s, and he still comes to the meetings because we are close. We help each other with our problems and share information. My mom still attends one of the groups with me.”
Holley feels that the structure of the group is what keeps people coming back. “In these Alzheimer’s support groups, we don’t set agendas. Everyone has a chance to share what is going on with them, and then other people can chime in with their experience. Other caregivers can give advice. As a facilitator, I can’t give advice or recommendations on specific care plans, doctors. Still, we direct them to the Alzheimer’s site, and other group members give recommendations,” says Holley.
With COVID-19, everything has moved online, which can be somewhat disruptive to the intimate face-to-face group setting. Says Holley, “We talk about how we miss meeting in person, it’s not the same as before, but some like having the group online. Technology has its benefits. You don’t have to drive anywhere. Before COVID, we had people who couldn’t attend meetings during the day, so we tried to set up an evening meeting. Now that they are home and they can attend virtually during the day.”
Quarantine has left many with Alzheimer’s or caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s feeling more isolated than ever before. “People must get the support they need, so I hope they’ll continue to attend sessions during this uncertain time. Caregiving is stressful enough without COVID and quarantine. I learned so many coping mechanisms from my group. We can help each other,” says Holley.
When asked the most important thing she learned from her group, Holley replied, “I had to totally change my way of thinking. People struggling with this disease are in their own reality, and you cannot pull them into yours. My dad and I used to argue about everything. I had to completely turn myself around and learn to simply agree with him. When mom and I figured out that we didn’t always need to be entirely truthful with dad, it actually caused less harm than arguing and gave him peace of mind. He always wanted to come home with us. He’d ask us to bring his yellow suitcase so we could pack all of his things and go home. We had to keep telling him “next time” because that was what he wanted to hear. We had to be okay with small lies, which was hard, but we knew he was safer in his memory care.”
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a variety of online resources, including support groups like the one Ada Holley facilitates. If you or someone you know requires support, visit Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter Support Groups to find a support group near you.