Solano County Walker shares tips on caregiving and giving back

Gwen Franklin of Hercules was very close to her grandmother, Wyolene. When Wyolene developed dementia, Gwen cared for her.

For the second year, Gwen has invited her family, friends and other church members to participate in the Solano County Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “Our Precious Memories” team will wear custom shirts, which list the names of their loved ones who have been affected by Alzheimer’s.

Gram

About Gram
Wyolene Greenwood was a god-fearing woman who never drank, smoke or used drugs. She was well known at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Oakland and believed in treating people the way you would want to be treated.

Married for 57 years, family was very important to Wyolene. “She took care of my children so my husband and I could work.” shared Gwen. “We were very close. We used to talk every day.”

The skillet on the stove
In 1996 Gwen was spending the night at her grandmother’s house. They had eaten dinner and Wyolene had already gone to bed. Suddenly, Gwen smelled something burning and rushed to the kitchen to find an empty skillet burning on the stove.

“I hadn’t realized that she had gotten back up and turned the stove on,” shared Gwen. “When I asked Gram about it, she looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about.”

Gwen had started to notice that her grandmother could never find her purse and would repeat stories she’d just shared. Then her grandmother told Gwen that she had concerns about her health.

Gwen took her grandmother to the doctor who ran some cognitive tests. Wyolene was diagnosed with dementia in 1995. Gwen was Wyolene’s primary caregiver until her grandmother died in 2007.

Gram and Family, Christmas 2006

Being a good caregiver
Caregiving is never easy. As Gwen says, “It takes a special person to be a caregiver.” Besides caring for her grandmother, Gwen has 43 years of experience in healthcare. She shared her advice for new caregivers:

  • Step into their reality, don’t expect them to step into yours.
  • Be patient and flexible. They change daily and you have to go with the flow.
  • Be organized, plan ahead and get your legal paperwork in order. Don’t wait until their dementia has progressed. It might be too late by then.
  • Don’t take what they say personally. It’s not them talking, it’s the disease.
  • Just love them.

Building a team
Gwen had known about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for a while. She’d seen the commercials and the company she works for is a sponsor. “I found a place in my heart that said, ‘let’s do this for Gram,’” shared Gwen. “Let’s get a team together and have some fun.”

The first thing Gwen did was go to a Walk mixer for first-time participants. There, she was able to get more information about the Walk and hear fundraising tips.

Next, she put together a team of friends, family and members of her church. “I invited everyone over for a lunch at my house and asked them if they’d be interested in forming a team,” shares Gwen. “I put together a packet that included fundraising tips as well as incentives for raising money.”

Team Our Precious Memories

Encouraging her team to raise funds
Gwen’s favorite way to raise money is to use a grid with different donation amounts on it, which adds up to $100. “People love donation squares,” shares Gwen. “Everyone can’t donate $100, but you can donate $1 or $5 and it makes them feel like they’re participating in a good cause.”

As a final way to bring her team together, Gwen makes t-shirts for her teammates. On the back of every shirt is a list of names. These names represent friends and family members who are affected by the disease.

“I’m trying to motivate and encourage my team,” says Gwen. “The more money we raise, the more likely we are to find a cure.” Gwen appreciates that Walk donations also help fund local care and support services for families in her community.

Tips for first time walkers
Gwen encourages people to wear sneakers, have a bottle of water and wear comfortable clothes. “The event doesn’t take all day,” she says. “Registration opens at 8 a.m. and the whole event is usually over by 11:30 a.m.”

 She likes that the Walk is accessible and flexible. “The Walk is not a marathon’” Gwen tells people. “You can walk at your leisure and you don’t have to walk the whole thing.”

 “It’s an atmosphere of happiness,” share Gwen, when talking about Walk day. “There are different speakers and it feels great to have so many people united for one cause.”

You can join Gwen’s Our Precious Memories Team or form your own team and join us for the Solano County Walk to End Alzheimer’s on October 19 at Harbor Plaza in Suisun City. Not in Solano County? Find the Walk to End Alzheimer’s near you at alz.org/walk.

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