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Prepares for Alzheimer’s Walk, Walk Down the Aisle
On Oct. 5, Nicole Jenkins will take two walks she’ll never forget. At 8
a.m., as she has for the past four years, she’ll gather with friends and
family members for the Sacramento Walk to End Alzheimer’s in honor of her
beloved dad, Mike. Later that day, her dad, assisted by her mom, Tracy, will
walk her down the aisle at her wedding.
She didn’t plan things that way, but when she found out the Alzheimer’s
walk would be the same date as her wedding, there was no hesitation. “There
was no question that we were going to do both because I would not miss the walk
even if I were dying ill,” she says. The wedding party felt the same way.
Joining her in the walk will be her fiance, Phil, six bridesmaids and several
friends, all whom knew her dad before Alzheimer’s devastating effects on
him. Some of Phil’s family from Canada may even join them.
“I got a shirt made for the walk that says, ‘This morning I’m
walking for my daddy,’ and it has a heart, on the back it says ‘Tonight
he’s walking me down the aisle.’”
“Most of the wedding party actually walked with me last year,” Nicole
says. “They’ve been super supportive. We had a garage sale a couple
of weeks ago at one of my bridesmaid’s house and we donated all the money
to the Alzheimer’s Association. They have just been amazing. They have
been my backbone these past couple of months.”
Now 26, Nicole was still in high school when she and her family began to notice
subtle signs of forgetfulness and distraction in her dad, like losing keys and
forgetting dates and appointments.
They didn’t think too much of it because they were such minor things, and
it was around the time of his 2003 retirement after a 30-year career with the
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Transitioning from his role as
a detective to a retiree at age 54 was a major life change and bound to affect
Over the next few years, Mike began to run stop signs, even in neighborhoods
he knew well, and get lost.
An avid cyclist, Mike rode regular 80-mile round-trips to the delta. “One
day he called me because he couldn’t figure out how to get back home, and
I had to go pick him up,” Nicole says.
In 2006, Nicole’s mom Tracy took Mike to a neurologist. On the first visit, “He
said, ‘Oh don’t worry. He’s retired, so his brain is retired.’” Tracy
says. When she took him back for testing, “they said they saw some mild
dementia, but there was nothing said about Alzheimer’s.” She agreed
with the doctor to bring him back in one year. In 2007, Mike went through the
eight-hour testing for Alzheimer’s and he failed every component.
“The neurologist actually apologized to me and said when he’d first
seen Mike, he didn’t consider Alzheimer’s because he thought he was
too young,” Tracy says. “But back then they didn’t know there
was a lot of this early onset Alzheimer’s. That year, the neurologist had
diagnosed eight people under age 58.”
Today, Mike is totally dependent. “He can’t be left alone,” Tracy
says. “He’s lost his speech. He can say a few words, but it’s
really hard for him to comprehend a conversation. If I say, ‘Mike, go pick
up that blue cup,’ he’s so bewildered he doesn’t understand
what I’m saying to him... He can put clothes on, but if I allowed him,
he’d put the same things on over and over or he’d put things on backwards.
He can still see himself, but he can’t fix anything for himself. He hasn’t
a clue what to do. Physically, the man is in good shape. He’s 64 so he’s
still young, but his mind is mush. I’ve looked up these different phases
of Alzheimer’s and he’s probably getting close to the last phase
where he’ll start shutting down.”
Tracy adds “It’s scary because with the baby boomers, they’re
thinking there will be so many more getting this disease, and it’s such
a terrible, terrible disease.”
It takes a huge toll on families.
“My mom has been an angel,” Nicole says. “She quit her job
to take care of my grandma because she had a stroke and then when my dad was
diagnosed, she focused all of her attention on him. She has given up so much
to take care of my dad.
“I’ve pretty much already mourned the loss of my dad. He’s
not the same person he was six years ago,” Nicole says. “It’s
almost like my dad and I have switched roles, like I’m the older sister
and am really protective of him. Before, he was my daddy. He protected me.”
Nicole knows that there isn’t much hope for her dad at this point, but
she is joining the Alzheimer’s walk to give some hope to others.
“I want more awareness for this because people don’t realize that
Alzheimer’s is the number 6 killer, and nobody knows what to do with it,” she
“I hope and pray that they do find a cure. I wouldn’t wish this – what
we’ve gone through as a family with my dad – on my worst enemy. If
my walking prevents anyone else from going through what I’ve gone through
then I’m doing my job right.”
And she wants to share the lesson she’s learned through this ordeal. “Don’t
take your family for granted. Spend as much time with your family as you can
and cherish them because you never know what’s going to happen.”
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