Clarksvillian leads efforts to raise Alzheimer’s awareness
By Lonnie Wilkey
She has watched the disease slowly “take” her husband Jack from her for the past six years. He is now in the late second stage and early beginning of stage three of Alzheimer’s. “The man who loved and cherished me all these years is the exact opposite now,” she shared in an interview with the Baptist and Reflector.
Blackard, a member of Mount Hermon Baptist Church, Clarksville, has watched her husband “die” over and over through the years as his mind has slipped away. “I want my husband back, but I will never get him back,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“Without God’s grace, I couldn’t get through this. He’s my best friend.”
Her journey with her husband is why she has become so passionate about “helping to find a cure for this devastating disease.” In March, she was chosen as the first Faith Outreach Representative for the Tennessee Alzheimer’s Association.
“I can and do relate, empathize and sympathize more with patients and caregivers of Alzheimer’s,” she said.
June is recognized as “Alzheimer’s Awareness Month” and Blackard is hoping churches will rise to the challenge of helping their members who are affected by the disease in one way or another.
Data from the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that more than five million Americans are affected by the disease which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States (see additional statistics on page six).
She noted that early signs of Alzheimer’s are connected with memory and include difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, problems with speaking or writing, decreased or poor judgement and more.
In addition, Alzheimer’s can last from a few months or up to 15-17 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Blackard cited ways that “loving Christians in our churches” can help those who are dealing with dementia (which does not always lead to Alzheimer’s) or Alzheimer’s.
Treat the individuals the way you always have, she suggested. “They are the same people, just in a different way. They seek your kindness, they love to laugh and they enjoy worshiping with church families. They may not remember your name but they will remember the kindness you show or the hug you give them.”
Blackard also encouraged church members to pray for patients and caregivers daily, visit patients in a care facility or to take meals to the family to give the caregivers a break from cooking. “You never know when you will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia or when you may become a caregiver,” she observed.
She noted that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
Most of the caregivers are spouses and children of the patient, she added. “Living in the home with an Alzheimer’s patient definitely makes you reevaluate your priorities,” she said.
Blackard also encouraged churches to observe Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in June by taking a Sunday to remember patients or caregivers by wearing purple one Sunday that month.
Blackard said she “cannot make it without her church family and pastor” at Mount Hermon Baptist. Her pastor (John Richardson) checks on them and is always ready to offer a prayer “right now” for the Blackards.
“He’s walking me through this,” she said.
Richardson called Beverly Blackard a “faithful church member” and a Barnabas (encourager) to others.
He noted Blackard has dealt with the challenges of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.
“She has hung with him and stuck by him,” the pastor affirmed.
Blackard is grateful for the support she has received, and said she wants to be an encourager to others who are walking a similar journey.
“My faith has been made stronger by leaning on God to guide me minute by minute through caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. My goal is to continue to trust God as I encourage others who are caregivers for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.” B&R — For more information, contact Blackard at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit alz.org.