Kathy Welsh

Kathy Welsh

POUGHKEEPSIE – Poughkeepsie resident Deb Colquhoun is active with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Westchester and Putnam counties.

Loss of Mother, Grandmother to Dementia Fuels Woman’s Fundraising, Advocacy Efforts

Walkers participate in a previous Putnam Walk to End Alzhiemer’s. The Walk has a new location this year at Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park in Carmel. Photo provided

Her walk team, We Love Helen, is in honor of her mother, Helen Colquhoun, who died from Alzheimer’s disease six years ago at age 80. Her grandmother, Mary Penman, also died from the disease. Now her aunt has also been diagnosed with it as well.

Her mother began showing signs of the disease a few years after her father passed away in 2001. An active person who loved doing crafts and puzzles, she became increasingly forgetful. When she attempted to cook using an aluminum container on the stove where she lived with one of Deb Colquhoun’s sisters, it was a red flag. Then, around midnight one night, her brother-in-law heard a noise in the garage and found her mother trying to leave the house. It was then that the family realized she needed to be moved somewhere where she could receive round-the-clock care.

Although Deb Colquhoun and her sisters knew what to expect, having been through it with their grandmother, watching their mother succumb to the disease was no less devastating.

“My sisters and I knew that that day would come when she wouldn’t know who we were,” Deb Colquhoun said. “We knew that we still were going to be with her and for her. A lot of people just kind of dump their loved ones in a nursing home. We were with her all the time, as much as we could be. Between the four of us, we were with her practically every day.”

But being there took an emotional toll, especially when she stopped recognizing them.

“One day I walked in, and she said, ‘I know who you are,’ and I got this hope she would know who I really was,” Deb Colquhoun recalled, but those hopes were dashed when her mother said, ‘You’re my friend I grew up with in Yonkers.’ ”

While Deb Colquhoun said her natural instinct was initially to correct the error, this upset and frustrated her mother. So in time, she learned not to contradict what her mother said, even if it was painful.

“I’d go along with whoever she thought I was that day. I held it in until I left, and then I got out the door and I just lost it, totally, I just burst into tears,” she said.

Now, besides being a team captain for the Walk, Deb Colquhoun is also an Alzheimer’s advocate. She oversees the advocacy table at the Westchester and Putnam walks, informing people how they can get involved with lobbying their lawmakers to support Alzheimer’s-related legislation. She has also traveled to Albany with other advocates from around the Hudson Valley on Alzheimer’s Advocacy Day, formerly known as Rally Day, to help spread the word to lawmakers in person. She says she finds great satisfaction in doing that.

“I pray that a cure comes. I can’t imaging looking at my family and friends and not knowing who they are, and I believe a cure will be found in this decade,” Deb Colquhoun said. “And it better be found before anyone else I know and love will be diagnosed with it. That’s why I advocate.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s research, care and support.  Its 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. Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s. Visit alz.org/hudsonvalley or call 800.272.3900.

If you go

What: Putnam Walk to End Alzheimer’s
When: Sunday, Oct. 15. Registration starts at 9 a.m., opening ceremony at 10 a.m. followed by the Walk.
Where: New location at Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park, 201 Gypsy Trail Road, Carmel
Web: Register at PutnamWalk.org
Contact: Venesa Marcellin at 845.394.4952 or vmarcellin@alz.org



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