Over 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. This degenerative brain disease is the most common type of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. It afflicts people of all ages and demographics. Yet, despite the fact that it’s becoming more common, diagnosed and recognized, it is still often whispered about.
That’s where the Alzheimer Society of Washington comes in. Based in Bellingham, the organization brings education, connection and support to individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s disease. “We help people right now – who need help right now – getting through the dementia journey,” says Executive Director Jan Higman. “I think it’s critical for people to have that help, support and education.”
The Alzheimer Society of Washington has served Whatcom County since it was founded in 1983. They provide Care Partner Support Groups for caregivers and individuals experiencing early stage memory loss. They also have Staying Connected, a weekly program for people with early memory loss concerns. Their services and events help make memory screenings and supportive environments more accessible to the community. They want to ensure that no one feels alone.
“Support groups are very important because we see people come in that are so isolated and feel like there is nobody out there,” says Leslie Jackson, RN and educational coordinator. She enjoys “watching the transition when they first come to the support group, and then they’re laughing by the time they leave!”
From the very beginning, the Alzheimer Society of Washington was created to support volunteers, family and friends of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses. Frank and Josselyn Winslow are two of the society’s founding members. Their journey began when Josselyn’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the 1970s.
Frank and Josselyn quickly realized there was little help for people with dementia at that time. Josselyn discovered she had no power to advocate for her mother after she entered a care facility, because her mother had not made an advance directive. At the time, there was no legal way for a daughter to speak for her mother with dementia.
Frank and other Whatcom County residents went to Olympia to help advocate for a law that would allow the family members of those with Alzheimer’s disease to speak for them.
“Frank recognized that after my mother died, the doctor had to understand to put Alzheimer’s disease [on the death certificate] and the bureau of statics had to know to count it,” Josselyn says.
The significance of correctly labeling a cause of death leads to big impact in studying these kinds of diseases. Research is determined by numbers, so when a disease like Alzheimer’s is correctly identified, it informs people that this is a field that needs to be focused on.
Due to Frank’s work in Olympia, awareness of the importance of accurate labeling was raised. When he later passed away, his death certificate was correctly labeled. “I was gratified that Frank’s death certificate said ‘vascular dementia’ because if the doctor had not been aware, it would not have been there.”
“I’m hoping that with what we’re doing and the help people are getting, sooner or later, people will speak out about Alzheimer’s and all the dementias,” Josselyn says. “It will be something where a whole lot of people and the system helps.”
As a founder and board member, Josselyn has helped the Alzheimer Society of Washington since its inception. Today she is working to make the community as a whole more dementia friendly.
“It’s inspiring to see the growth of the society,” Jackson says. “In the beginning, there were a few people going to support groups and now there are 26!”
The Alzheimer Society of Washington greets everyone with compassion and are ready to help anyone who walks through their door. Their events, volunteer opportunities and resources are readily available to the community. Living with Alzheimer’s can be challenging, but it’s so important to know you are not alone.
Alzheimer Society of Washington
1301 Fraser Street Suite A-1