BOSTON — After John Gallagher read aloud his letter about living with Alzheimer’s, Allison Blanck of Sen. Mark Montigny’s office teared up, even though she doesn't have a personal connection to the disease.
“The most important thing you can do here today is share your personal story,” said Daniel Zotos, director of public policy and advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Eight SouthCoast residents ranging in age from 11 to over 70 boarded a small Eascare bus in North Dartmouth to the Statehouse to advocate for the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act (H. 4116) which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives Jan. 31 and is set to go before the Senate this summer.
The pending legislation includes establishing a comprehensive state plan to address Alzheimer’s within the Executive Office of Elder Affairs while forming a permanent advisory council; requiring curriculum on the disease to be incorporated into continuing medical education programs that are required for renewing certain medical licenses; creating minimum training standards for elder protective services social workers; and requiring all state hospitals to implement an operational plan for recognition and management of patients with dementia or delirium accountable to the Department of Public Health.
“I personally do all I can to remain at peak performance. I walk 12 miles each day, eat healthy, remain social, sleep properly and try to maintain a positive and proactive attitude. I need your help,” Gallagher, a Dartmouth resident, told Blanck. His wife Christine was by his side.
Clad in purple, Barbara Meehan of Wareham, co-chair of the southeastern Mass. Walk to End Alzheimer's with Christine, stood in front of the grand staircase to share the story of how she’s continued to be an advocate after her long-term partner Faye Miles died in late 2015.
“We’re the advocates. Our job is to figure out what’s needed to make life better for caregivers and for people dealing with any and the many forms of dementia,” Meehan said. It’s important to maintain the dignity of those with memory impairment, she said.
On the bus ride back to Dartmouth, she told The Standard-Times that if the bill is signed into law, “No one will have to go through what we went through.”
“You really need people who understand what you’re dealing with,” she said. When Miles went missing after wandering far from a local farm stand, the scary situation was somewhat eased because the local police department understood how to deal with someone with a memory issue. According to Meehan, municipal police officers are required to have dementia training.
As isolating as being a caregiver or living with Alzheimer’s can be, the group of SouthCoast residents seemed like not just advocates, but friends in the fight together.
Old Rochester Regional High School student Mia Quinlan said she found support through this community when she shared stories of a loved one with Alzheimer's. She’ll be doing her fourth Walk to End Alzhiemer’s this Sept. 22.
Beside her son Timmy, Nancy Medeiros Botelho said she didn’t have a grandmother growing up, so she adopted her best friend’s grandmother. She had Alzheimer’s and died 11 years ago, which is when Medeiros Botelho began to get heavily involved in advocacy, attending years of advocacy days in Boston.
“I promised that I would do more awareness and more advocacy,” she said.
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