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Fighting the Darkness of Alzheimer’s on ‘The Longest Day’

How three people in the early stages of the disease will celebrate this year’s summer solstice


The Alzheimer’s Association does wonderful work helping people with Alzheimer’s—and their caregivers—lead engaged, meaningful lives. With June 20th being the longest day in the northern hemisphere, and the day with the most light, the organization is making it an occasion worth celebrating. 

Recently spoke to three members of the Alzheimer’s Early-Stage Advisory Group (made up of those with a diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s) to find out just what they would be doing. These members are living with the disease and sharing with others how they live their lives, especially on this longest day.

The Gift of Painting
Dave Gonlag of Kenmore, New York

Gonlag expects to be doing some painting, watercolor or acrylics, maybe a landscape or two. An accountant who worked 30 years for the same corporation, you wouldn’t have figured he was an artist. But after his diagnosis with mild cognitive impairment in 2014 at age 55, things changed.

Gonlag knew something was off with his memory after his wife Donna’s surgery from a fall. When the hospital bills came in, he could remember the trip to the E.R. but nothing about the hospitalization. Then one day he discovered himself at the gas station with no memory of how he got there. He was diagnosed with the condition a short time later.

Gonlag didn’t want to leave work, didn’t want to give up that support network, but as he put it, “I realized I was being selfish.” He knew from first-hand experience what a burden the disease could put on caregivers. Over the years,  his family had provided in-home care for elderly members who were suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“If we’d only known about the Alzheimer’s Association back then and what help it could provide,” he said. Being informed and informing others is now part of his calling, talking to groups, supporting others.

And painting, something he’s recently taken up, discovering a gift he didn’t know he had. In addition to the Alzheimer’s Association, he’s grateful to the support he’s found at his church, their prayers and his prayers. “They keep me going,” he says. “One day at a time.”

A Love for Craft
Arthena Caston of Macon, Georgia

On the longest day, Caston plans on making a large wreath with lots of flowers. She’d always been a lover of crafts, a denizen of Hobby Lobby, and that hasn’t stopped.

For years she worked in customer support at a large insurance company, helping people iron out their problems. “I was a fixer,” she says. And a self-described people person. Then she discovered worrisome lapses of memory. What was going on?

One day she went out to her car in the parking lot after an eight-hour shift at work and discovered she’d left it running, with the keys inside. Something was wrong.

Caston, too, hated to give up work, and she, too, knew she had to do something. Early on she called the 24-hour Alzheimer’s Association helpline and ended up volunteering for the organization. “My husband says if it weren’t for them, I’d be lying around at home all day.” 

She has two grown daughters and they make a point of calling her every day, reassuring her of their love. Her husband, Virous, tells her, “God put me on this earth to take care of you.”

She likes to dress her two dogs in their purple Alzheimer’s Association T-shirts or sweaters when she takes them out for a walk. No wonder the neighborhood has dubbed her the Purple Dog Lady.

Caston readily turns to prayer, reminding herself, as she says, that God never gives you more than you can stand. If she’s feeling out of sorts, she’ll pray, “God, today might not be a great day, but it’s better than I thought it would be because I woke up!”

Biking for a Cause
Keith Moreland of Anderson, South Carolina
You can be sure that Moreland will be going on a long bike ride on the longest day, riding outdoors in nature on the local Swamp Rabbit Trail.

“With Alzheimer’s, you need to make ways to live your best life,” Moreland says. In addition to biking, he has become very active in his local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Moreland is the co-facilitator of a small group of people like him, who suffer from dementia, meeting once a month. They’re able to talk about anything. “I need others who understand the frustrations of what we’re going through.”

One of the poignant things he’s discovered since his diagnosis is the falling off of friends. “Lots of time, people don’t know what to say. They don’t know how to respond.” 

“I want to tell them, ‘I’m still Keith.’ I might mess up, say something off the wall but I’m the same guy.” Sometimes forgetfulness leads to awkward moments, like the other night when he had to stop saying grace halfway through because he couldn’t remember quite where he was in his prayer. 

“My wife picked up where I left off, and that was just fine,” he says.

Moreland’s advice to those who aren’t suffering from the disease but know someone who is: “It’s okay to say, ‘What can I do for you? How can I help?’”

His answer would be, “Just come over some day and visit.” He and his wife, Sheri, still go bowling—they love midnight bowling—and he goes fishing. And of course, biking, as he’ll be doing this year on the longest day.


To learn more about The Longest Day, click here

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