For Lynette Blumhardt, volunteering with the Sacramento chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association wasn’t just a nice thing to do—it was a matter of survival.
The College Glen resident and Sacramento native found herself turning to the association—the country’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, support and research—when her father was diagnosed with the disease in 2012.
“When we got the diagnosis, my volunteer ‘let’s figure this out’ thought process kicked in,” Blumhardt says. “I contacted the Alzheimer’s Association’s local office and told them I wanted to learn more.” For Blumhardt, volunteering is not only a longtime passion, but also “in the DNA” of her family. Though she couldn’t jump in full time at first—she had teenagers at home and was still working in communications—she found a community of people and a wealth of resources that helped her cope with the havoc the disease was wreaking on her family. As her father’s health declined, Blumhardt got more and more involved. She joined the association’s advocacy team that meets with elected officials to discuss legislation that supports funding for Alzheimer’s research. She also became more involved as a caregiver for her dad. “Taking my dad’s car keys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Blumhardt says. She notes that it was especially difficult seeing such an agile-minded man—her father worked in the burgeoning heyday of electronics in the ‘50s and ‘60s—become addled so quickly. “It’s like the disease kidnaps your loved one and takes them away.”
Blumhardt took an early retirement to help care for her family. Then her mom had a fall that necessitated moving both parents into a facility. Her dad passed away in 2015. Blumhardt explains that people die from the disease because the brain not only loses memory but also stops telling the body how to function, such as instructing your heart to beat. Her mom followed 10 weeks later to the day.
But instead of giving into her grief and distancing herself from Alzheimer’s altogether, Blumhardt remains a steadfast supporter of the association that gave her so much support during those difficult years.
“Being a caregiver is emotionally, physically and financially taxing,” Blumhardt says. “It’s all-consuming, which is why my No. 1 advice to anyone going through it is to get help. Don’t try to do it on your own.
Call or email the Alzheimer’s Association—they have a 24-hour hotline. Get resources, join a support group. Sometimes you just need to talk about it with someone who understands what you’re going through, or who can help you deal with health care providers. Then, if you’re inclined to do something more, take action.”
Blumhardt favors the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which takes place every fall and raises money for the association—80 percent of which goes toward research. Blumhardt’s other key piece of advice? Don’t lose hope.
“It sounds so overwhelming,” she admits. “There are 5.8 million people living with Alzheimer’s in the U.S.; 670,000 in California; 24,000 just in Sacramento County. But there is hope out there. As more and more research dollars get into the pipeline and we find out more about how the disease works, we’ll get to the answer eventually. If we’re all here together, we’re going to find a way to end this.”