Alaska First Lady Donna Walker Reflects on Losing Her Dad to Alzheimer’s

By Donna Walker
November 17, 2016

Anchorage, AK - "My dad had a brilliant mind. A farm boy, he became the first person in all the generations of his family to earn a college degree. He was my primary inspiration for going to college and law school. A chief financial officer with the Department of the Army, he was especially good with numbers. He was my “go to” person for help with Algebra, and when I got older, with finances and investments.

Twelve years ago, my dad and I were tasked with getting pizzas for a family gathering. All the way to the pizza place, he was trying to figure out how many pizzas to order. We figured three slices per person for eight people. I posed a simple math problem: eight people multiplied by three slices equals 24 slices. Each pizza has eight slices so 24 divided by eight equals three pizzas. He argued with me and calculated out loud. He was way off base and kept getting confused. Frustrated, he gave up trying to figure it out. My dad, the math whiz? I was very concerned.

It soon became apparent that my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. As the years passed, the disease robbed him of his independence, communication skills, personality, enjoyment of life, and the ability to recognize people or places. When he began to wander from home and have anger outbursts, we reluctantly decided to move him from my mom’s care to a memory care facility.

His last day at home was a tough one for my mom and me. I took him and his dog for a long walk to the harbor. A lifelong fisherman, he was happiest near the water. That night, my mom and I marked his name on his belongings and tried to not fall apart. Soon after the transition to memory care, he lost his physical health and needed a wheelchair and oxygen tank. We lost him in 2014.

Gov. Bill Walker has declared November as Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. According to Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, approximately 6,000 Alaskans suffer from AD. There is no known cure but great strides have been made in understanding the disease and seeking a cure."

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