Walking to raise awareness in Merced
Having personally witnessed how hard it can be to get a diagnosis for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, Hortencia Silva of Mariposa has made it her mission to raise awareness and advocate. She volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association as a community educator and advocate, and also participates in Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Merced.
Lack of awareness
When Hortencia’s loved one was experiencing symptoms, their physician just said that the issues were due to old age. “I don’t know if it was because of our own ignorance about dementia, but we didn’t push any of the doctors further,” shares Hortencia.
“In our culture we are taught never to question anyone who is highly educated, like a doctor. It would be disrespectful.”
Research has shown that missed diagnoses of Alzheimer’s and other dementias are more common among Hispanics and Blacks than among Whites.
Hortencia didn’t believe the doctor’s assessment, but she was unsure of what to do. She confided in her friend Stella de la Peña, who works for the Alzheimer’s Association.
After listening to Hortencia’s story, Stella encouraged her to contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900). Hortencia said, “I didn’t know it at the time, but the phone number was the best gift I could have received.”
Hortencia signed up to participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s and quickly became friends with other staff members including Cheryl Schrock, the Walk manager for the Merced Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
“Cheryl would call to check in on me,” shared Hortencia. “She kept reminding me that the Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Looking back on this experience, Hortencia has this suggestion for current caregivers: “If you start seeing changes in your loved one, start a journal. Write down how your loved one is acting then bring this information to the doctor.”
Volunteering to help others
Hortencia doesn’t want other people to go through the same hardships she faced. As a retired health educator, she’s using her time and experience to volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and educate her community.
“Hispanics often have a lack of insurance, a lack of knowledge and a lack of transportation,” says Hortencia. “We end up living with our children and we’re left at home by ourselves when the children go to work. We have no one to talk to and no stimulation.”
Hortencia wants to make sure that her community is more educated about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. She represents the Alzheimer’s Association at as many community events as she can.
“They needed someone to represent Merced,” says Hortencia. “Whenever they call, I make myself available. The Alzheimer’s Association came through for me, and I want to return the favor.”
Besides providing education, Hortencia also volunteers as an advocate, helping to educate state and federal legislators. “I finally found an organization that I can support,” shares Hortencia. “I can be supportive for those people who don’t understand Alzheimer’s.”
Walking to End Alzheimer’s
This will be Hortencia’s eighth year participating in Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “Donating and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association is how the programs are offered to our community at no cost,” says Hortencia. “It’s important to continue supporting these services.”
In asking others to donate, Hortencia encourages walkers to “share with friends and family why you are doing this and keep raising awareness. People will support you if you have a passion and a reason for what you are doing.”
Besides her individual fundraising, Hortencia coordinates activities with others on her team. It helps to find out the strengths and talents of your team members. One of Hortencia’s team members has been making quilts to use in their team’s fundraising efforts.
Smiles and laughter on Walk day
On Walk day, Hortencia enjoys seeing the smiles of the other Walk participants, including those who are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia and their family members. Despite the sadness of losing someone to Alzheimer’s, Hortencia appreciates that Walk day is filled with music, smiles, laughter and hope, as the community comes together to end Alzheimer’s.