Every summer for the past 20 years, Heather Thomure and her family pile into the car and ride off on a camping trip. It’s no easy feat. Thomure’s family is huge, but they’re tight knit. Last year’s trip was especially heartwarming: everyone in the family sat around a smoky campfire and sang hymns for the grandfather Thomure so adores: George DeClue.
“You could see the joy emanating from him,” Thomure said. “It was amazing.”
DeClue is the patriarch of his large family. He and his wife, Nancy DeClue, have been married for 51 years. Together they’ve endured both joy and tragedy: from the 2005 death of the youngest of their five children, to the birth of 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Thomure says her grandfather is trustworthy, strong, joyful and has always been heavily involved in the lives of those he loves.
But a few years ago, there was a stark change in his behavior. Since then, nothing has been the same.
“We thought maybe he’d had a stroke,” Thomure said. “He was acting more forgetful than normal. We could just tell something was off.”
Concerned, Thomure’s mother and uncle took DeClue to the doctor. There he was diagnosed with dementia. A year and a half later, things took a turn for the worse.
“He woke up one morning completely disoriented,” Thomure remembers. “There was just a major shift in his cognitive ability.”
DeClue was taken back to the doctor where his family’s fears were confirmed. DeClue’s dementia had progressed into full blown Alzheimer’s. He was only 68 years old.
“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to hear,” Thomure said. “Just knowing what Alzheimer’s means and dementia means and getting that phone call and knowing you’re going to watch your loved one slip away.”
Alzheimer’s disease is an epidemic across the United States today. It involves the breakdown of brain tissue that in turn leads to the decay of memory and cognition. The disease has no cure, leaving family and friends of those impacted to watch helplessly as their loved one deteriorates. More than five million Americans are currently living with the disease, which is not a part of normal aging. With the baby boomer population aging, that number is expected to reach as high as 16 million by 2050.
“it’s a very difficult thing to experience. The person that goes through Alzheimer’s, their whole personality changes,” Thomure says. “My grandpa is not the same person that he was before he got sick. It’s very difficult to say out loud. It’s difficult to talk about or let your mind dwell on the things that are coming.”
Since his diagnosis, DeClue’s family has watched him endure a rapid decline in cognitive function.
Last year, they decided they wanted to do more to help those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. They formed a team with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Their team name, “Holy Popsicle” pays a special tribute to DeClue.
“My grandpa has always said that whenever he thinks something is surprising,” Thomure said with a laugh. “Instead of saying ‘oh my gosh’ or ‘oh my goodness’ just ‘holy popsicle!’”
Team Holy Popsicle was able to garner more than 70 participants to raise funds and walk to end this devastating disease. Even so, their efforts are bittersweet. DeClue was unable to walk with those that love him so.
“We weren’t able to speak to him about what the walk is,” Thomure said, citing the reasoning that that she and her family didn’t want to confuse or upset DeClue. “We just told him we were raising money for a cause. He stayed home and we walked for him.”
Even so, their efforts did not go without reward. Team “Holy Popsicle” raised more than $1,400 for the Alzheimer’s Association. This year, the team hopes to do even better.
“I’m just excited to see if we can meet the goal we met last year or even surpass it,” Thomure said. “Each year for us is a process and gets a little more difficult. As each year goes by we’re going to need each other a little more than we did before.”
Thomure and her family no doubt have stuggles ahead of them, but through advocacy and love, they will without a doubt emerge from this battle closer than ever. As George DeClue himself loved to say, “I sure do have a great family. I really am blessed.”
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place on Sept. 9 at Farmington High School. Participants can register at 8 a.m., with the ceremony starting at 9 a.m. and the walk at 9:30 a.m.
To start or join a team today, visit the Alzheimer’s Association alz.org/walk. To learn more about disease and available resources, call the toll-free Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.
The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s – the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.