Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

S Shopper Stories


ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION - SOUTHEASTERN VIRGINIA CHAPTER

Working for a world without ALZ

by Rachel Francis


The Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers help and support to area families who are living with the disease. Rachel Francis with her mother Rita Francis and her grandmother Rosie Ward--who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers help and support to area families who are living with the disease. Rachel Francis with her mother Rita Francis and her grandmother Rosie Ward--who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Rosie Ward is 79 years old, and has her 80th birthday coming up in December. She’s strong, healthy, and with nearly no medical issues, she has had no surgeries or hospitalizations  over the past decade. She has her snowy hair styled in a short, adorable pixie cut and brushed perfectly to the side of her kind face. She is the mother of three children and the grandmother of one. If you were to look at Rosie in passing, you’d think she was perfectly fine. But she isn’t. She’s in the late, debilitating stages of Alzheimer’s (ALZ) disease.

Due to her long battle with this heartbreaking disease, Rosie isn’t aware of the fact she has children. She doesn’t know it is her generous middle son who dresses her, feeds her, bathes her and keeps her safe each and every day. She doesn’t recognize the voice, the hands or the dark brown eyes of her loving only daughter, now 57 years old. She is confused when her children refer to her as “Mom,” because in her mind, she simply is not their mother. She’ll never again be able to comfort them or her granddaughter with love and memories of the life they have all spent together. Alzheimer’s has taken her life from her, and left her a living breathing shell, unable to connect with anyone or anything around her again.

Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and a disease for which there is no cure, prevention or treatment. To put that in perspective, every 66 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Today, more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. By  2050, this number could rise as high as 16 million.

The one assistance that the Ward family, and other caregivers in Hampton Roads, have in caring for a loved one is the Southeastern Virginia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. This local chapter provides support for residents in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk and surrounding areas. The Alzheimer’s Association’s mission is simple: they work day in and day out for “a world without Alzheimer’s disease.”

The ALZ Association was founded in 1980 by Jerome H. Stone and a group of family caregivers. According to their website, (www.alz.org) “Today the Association reaches millions of people affected by Alzheimer’s across the globe through our headquarters in Chicago, a public policy office in Washington, D.C., and a presence in communities across the country.”   They are the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.  The Alzheimer’s Association provides support in a number of different ways to caregivers and their families: support groups, early stage programs, community education programs, conferences, professional training, as well as faith and community engagement.


“When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
we feel alone, scared and very overwhelmed.
We don’t even know what services and help
are available for you and your loved one.
The Association understands and cares.”

—Rita Francis



Providing support for caregivers is one of the most helpful and reassuring services the ALZ Association provides. The toll that caregiving takes on the family of someone with Alzheimer’s is tragic. According to the Association, there are 455,000 family caregivers in Virginia who provide over $519 million in unpaid care. Caregivers are often unable to hold a job, and  report declines in emotional and physical health as a result of the stress of being a full time caregiver to someone with this disease.



The Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for ALZ care, support and research. Walks are scheduled for September in Suffolk and Virginia Beach.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for ALZ care, support and research. Walks are scheduled for September in Suffolk and Virginia Beach.


In Hampton Roads, reaching out to the ALZ Association means that one is going to have a group of genuine caring people who will wrap around them  and their family like a safe hug. The local Association is led by Gino Colombara, the president of the chapter—a man who welcomes everyone walking into  his office door with a huge, inviting smile and happy eyes. One knows when walking into the chapter office (located just off Center Drive in Norfolk)  that the people within those walls care deeply about helping others through this difficult time in life.

Rosie’s daughter, Rita, has been in connection with Gino and his staff for years. “The local Association is amazing and supportive,” she says.  “When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s we feel alone, scared and very overwhelmed with what to do. We don’t even know what is available for us and our loved one in the form of services and help. When our daughter got us involved with the Association five years ago, my mother was just starting with the symptoms. Today she does not know who we are, and her care is 24/7. The Association understands and cares.  Anytime I reach out to Gino, he always ends the email with, ‘Who you are makes a difference every day.’ That little reminder that always makes me feel good.”

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, according to www.alz.org: “Researchers are coming closer to developing more accurate ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s and treat the disease. Much of what we’ve learned has been in the last 15 years even though the disease was first identified in 1907.” These advancements can all be credited to the generous investments and donations of those working toward a world without Alzheimer’s disease.

The biggest fundraising event of the year is fast approaching. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease is the “world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for ALZ care, support and research,” according to www.alz.org. There are two Walks in Hampton Roads in September, one in Suffolk on September 16th and one in Virginia Beach on September 23rd.

Each of these events is a way for caregivers, people living with the disease, loved ones and families of those lost to ALZ disease to come together and fight for a better future.




Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Virginia

6350 Center Drive
Norfolk, VA 23502

757-459-2405