By Rebecca Hanlon, YDR
Fayne Abel has fought hard against a disease that will someday take her mind, her everyday functions, and eventually, her life.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010, Abel decided she would not let the illness determine her future. She found herself a safe haven in Country Meadows Retirement Communities in York Township. She believed she’d be taken care of when she one day could no longer do it herself.
That time is creeping up on Abel.
She can get frustrated trying to match her pants and top. Sometimes, she sits down to dinner and doesn’t know what to do with her fork. The tears and frustration come quickly to Abel, who has always noticed when she slips deeper into Alzheimer’s.
The 77-year-old woman has given so much of herself — teaching others that Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean the end — that her Country Meadows family is ready to do something for her. When she asked Jenn Warfel, coordinator for Country Meadows’ Connections unit, what else she could do, Warfel suggested that maybe they could do something for her.
The retirement community has been a long-time contributor to the Alzheimer’s Association. As officials planned to participate in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sept. 27, they decided that for the first time, they would walk in honor of a resident.
While they raise money for the event — more than $8,000 of the $10,000 goal already in the bank — they also have created T-shirts showcasing some of Abel’s well-known paintings. Her recreations of the Outer Banks, colorful bouquets and waterfalls already grace the walls of the nursing home.
“They do a lot of wonderful things for me,” Abel said. “I’m just so excited.”
And she was ecstatic when they asked her to join them on the trek.
“It seemed perfect,” Warfel said. “If anyone deserves it, if anyone can share that Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to take over your life, Fayne can do that.”
Abel’s caretakers at Country Meadows describe her as the perfect example of what someone should do if they’re ever faced with the disease. Abel didn’t just focus on her own treatment. Talking about the disease, she said, would help people know they don’t have to blindly fall into its despair.
Participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s fits with Abel’s lifestyle at Country Meadows. She would make laps around the building when she could walk on her own, often going down to the campus pond.
When she moved to the secure Connections unit, she would limit her walks to when someone could go with her or she’d simply walk laps up and down the hallway. Sometimes, she said, she goes out with the campus dog, Patty Ann.
While her sneakers haven’t seen nearly as many miles as they used to, it was time for a new pair. Sharon Bohlayer, a Connections associate, drove Abel to Flying Feet Sports Shoes in Spring Garden Township on Wednesday to pick out a new pair of size 8 1/2 white New Balance shoes. It’s the same style she’s worn for years.
“We’re afraid if we switch to something else, it won’t feel right,” Bohlayer said.
Abel, who admired a bright purple pair of shoes, the same color associated with the Alzheimer’s Association, said she likes looking, but sticks to what she knows.
And this style of shoes has always worked for her. Bohlayer said Abel will probably outwalk them at the event.
“They’re always so slow,” Abel explained.
Spreading the news about the walk and signing up as many people as they can has helped Warfel and Bohlayer give something back to Abel.
“It’s our small way of thanking her for all she does,” Bohlayer said.
Abel’s upbeat attitude has forever changed Warfel’s life, the Connections leader said.
“You can’t know Fayne and not look at your own life,” Warfel said. “She has been the best example we’ve ever seen of what life with Alzheimer’s can really look like.”
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, is set for Sept. 27, with registration at 9:30 a.m. and the opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. at Cousler Park in Manchester Township.
Those who wish to contribute to Fayne Abel’s fund, which has already raised more than $6,000, can search for “CM of LH: A walk for Fayne’s Walk Page” at www.alz.org.
For more information, contact Asheleigh Forsburg at 717-651-5020 or [email protected].
The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24-hour hotline staffed by master level clinicians who can connect callers with local resources or written materials, or talk to callers about concerns.
Megan Smith, family services coordinator with the association, said operators understand the disease and can sometimes provide emotional support to family members of those diagnosed. The hotline is available at 800-272-3900.
The York County Area Agency on Aging sometimes offers home health services to people in need at low or no cost. The agency can be reached at 717-771-9610.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers support groups for family members, caretakers and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. For more information, visit www.alz.org/pa.
Current medications for Alzheimer’s disease do not cure or prevent the illness from progressing, but they can lessen symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved just two types of medicine to treat the disease’s cognitive issues, but there are natural and holistic alternatives that some people take to improve overall wellness.
Kelly Kuntz, executive director of communications with Country Meadows Retirement Communities, said their executive chef has started using healthy ingredients and even has come up with a “brain healthy” granola using blueberries and whole grains that have been shown to help with brain function.
But more research needs to be done, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It estimates that 50,000 people are needed for more than 100 active clinic trials.
Right now, some of those trails are already finding news ways to treat the disease. One of the most recent findings is the potential benefits of a high does of Vitamin E. The antioxidant is sometimes prescribed by doctors who believe it helps with cognitive issues.
In 2014, results of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that individuals with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease who received high doses of vitamin E had a 19 percent slower rate of functional decline than those who received a placebo, according to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association. Functional decline includes problems with daily activities such as shopping, preparing meals, bathing, eating, planning and traveling.
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