Losing Multiple Family Members To Alzheimer’s Made One Woman Spend Her Life Raising Funds & Awareness

Ginger and her mom at her 50th wedding anniversary

By Dana Corddry

The official flower of Alzheimer’s Disease is appropriately the forget-me-not. The small blue flower has long been recognized in association with a range of dementia conditions (Alzheimer’s among them), and fittingly so, as most individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s experience symptoms of memory loss. 

Ginger Perkins, of Brentwood, Los Angeles, knows this all too well. Ginger’s Aunt, Minnie Mae, a resident of Long Beach, CA, for most of her life, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a time when there was little known about the disease, and even less public awareness. Minnie Mae was the eldest sister of Ginger’s mother, and Ginger recalls that she passed away after “more than a decade of being unable to recognize her children or any members of her family”. 

“After Aunt Minn’s death,” Ginger remembers, “my mother’s ‘middle’ sister Edna, known to me as ‘Auntie,’ was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My mother and Auntie were very close, and when Auntie could no longer call any of us by our names, my mother could not see her. My siblings and I think she was afraid of “seeing” her own future”.

Unfortunately, to those with have loved ones living with Alzheimer’s, Ginger’s family’s story is a familiar one. An estimated 5.8 million Americans aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s Disease, an incurable condition that gradually damages a patient’s memory, and impairs other cognitive abilities. Many patients, particularly those in the middle and late stages of the disease, lose their independence, requiring round-the-clock care, either in long term care facilities, or provided by family members, if they “age in place” at home. 

One of the most frightening aspects of Alzheimer’s is the alarming rate at which the disease is increasing among Americans aged 65 and older. In 2018, (the latest year for which data was made available), there were 122,019 deaths in the United States caused by Alzheimer’s Disease. These numbers aren’t only moving in the wrong direction; the rate of increase in the number of cases also dwarfs that of other leading causes of death in the U.S. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “By mid‐century, the number of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia may grow to 13.8 million”.

Ginger with her mom on their last visit to Disneyland

That is a scientifically projected growth rate of a staggering 138%. Indeed, whereas Alzheimer’s Dementia was once the concern of those with family histories of the disease, given the current pace of its spread, genetic predisposition is no longer a substantial divide between those who will and will not acquire this disease. Anyone anticipating aging into their mid-sixties and beyond, now faces a reasonably objective vulnerability to a future positive diagnosis. “Between 2000 and 2018, deaths resulting from stroke, HIV and heart disease decreased, whereas reported deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 146.2%”. 

Important to know, is that our most effective tools in fighting this disease are:

  1. Raising awareness by informing and engaging the public, and impelling our local communities to action
  2. Providing assistance to patients and caregivers
  3. Funding research toward finding a cure, and development of therapeutics to treat the disease across all stages: slow its progression, reduce symptoms, and provide greater dignity and improved quality of life to patients. 

With this health crisis ever increasing, and the global desire to heal the pain of families watching their parents and loved ones vanish before their eyes, the question for many becomes: “What can I do?” Enter The Alzheimer’s Association. “Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research”. 

“I want to continue to honor my mother and her siblings by working as a volunteer to raise money for research to find a cure for this horrible disease,” says Ginger.

The Mitchell Clan women

“I have lost my mother and two dear aunts and one uncle to Alzheimer’s. My large family donated blood for a DNA study at Texas Tech University. Five generations of “Mitchells” donated blood. That is why we named my team ‘The Mitchell Clan’. All of us who have experienced the devastation of watching those you love “disappear,” know how important this work is,” she continued.

This year, Ginger and many others, will participate in Santa Monica’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which was cleverly moved off the streets of Santa Monica, and onto an online platform, where you can sign up your own team or join an existing one, and walk from literally anywhere, to remain safe during the pandemic. Just think, your next group Facetime or Google hangout can include a group stroll through your yard with a glass of wine, your local park(s), or anywhere that suits your fancy, AND serve a greater purpose. Let’s make our technological conveniences (and our unlimited data plans) pay for a cause that counts this Fall. The Santa Monica, CA, area Walk will take place on October 25th with other Walks staggered at different times throughout cities nationwide. Ginger and I hope to see you there. 

How to Participate in The 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s:

Sign up your own team, join a team, or sign up on your own to take part in an interactive online experience, then walk from anywhere in your community!  (sign up here)

This year’s Santa Monica Walk to End Alzheimer’s is taking place EVERYWHERE on October 25th – as there will be no large gathering, for safety reasons. 

Make a donation (click here).
You can also like, comment or share the social media posts from The Santa Monica Walk page about the event.

Ginger (center) with her mom (left) and her sister and caretaker Jackie (right)

Dana Corddry is a writer and publicist who lives in Los Angeles, California. She works on Encore Voices’ team of creative writers and voice over directors, and enjoys collaborating on several ongoing films and series.