Why I Walk: Carissa

“I walk to support my grandma, Nan, who has Alzheimer’s. Right now, she still lives at home with my grandpa, and they have a home health aide come in from 7 a.m. – 1p.m. Nan has always been my rock. I am a nursing major and she loves telling everyone that I am the family nurse. I am already a CNA, so I know a lot about Alzheimer’s and dementia. The effects of it are unbearable to watch. Right now, I would say that Nan is between the 5th and 6th stages, with some leeway. She still knows who everyone is and she knows my family, and we are very thankful for that. She is starting to imagine things or even hallucinate, we are not quite sure, since this is very recent.


Carissa and her Nan

Sometimes, I will be sitting with her and she will ask, “Well where did you go?” I would ask her who she is talking about and she said me. I said “I’m right here, Nan”. She thought that I had left the room. She has also tried talking to her youngest grandson, who is 3, when he is not there. She acknowledges him and believes he is there, but he is not. It is hard for us to watch this disease take over her mind, but I know she is still my Nan, and she is still in there.

About a year and a half ago, she had a small stroke that fast forwarded her Alzheimer’s. Ever since then, it has been progressing very fast. She has many falls, but luckily she has only had one tiny fracture in her wrist.


Carissa’s tattoo that she designed in honor of her Nan

A year ago in May, I decided I wanted to get a tattoo for her, because I did not know how long it would be before she would degrade even more. I designed the tattoo myself, and it says “Forget me not”. The “o” on the “forget” is the Alzheimer’s Association symbol. When I showed her, she cried and  cried and she told me she would not forget.



After that summer, it was time to go off to college at Bradley University. It was my freshman year and the thing to do was to join a sorority. This was the best decision I’ve ever made. When visiting Sigma Kappa, the first thing I saw was the “Alzheimer’s Association” written in the “a” of the Sigma. It was one of their many philanthropies. As soon as I saw it I knew this could easily be my new home. After learning more about the ways Sigma Kappa helps Alzheimer’s Association, I was compelled to join. I received a bid and could not wait to tell Nan everything we would be doing to raise money to help people like her.


Carissa and her Sigma Kappa sisters at the Peoria Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2015

Our first event was the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. All together, we raised a little over $10,000. This year, we hope to raise even more. Walking that day with my sisters was something I will never forget. It showed me how many people knew exactly what it was like to have a family member living with Alzheimer’s. I felt the care and support through Sigma Kappa that will never be forgotten.

Sigma Kappa chapters all over America have recently reached our goal of $1,000,000 three years WAY ahead of schedule! This is outstanding to me. It really does mean a lot to me, and I do it all for Nan.

Recently, our family has been struggling with trying to make decisions on what we should do about care for Nan because we know that she needs more than just 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. care. However, my grandpa, being the stubborn one, refuses to go anywhere because of the expenses. He also rejects the idea of a nighttime nurse to help out because of the expenses as well.

It has been a little rough lately with Nan as now she mostly does not have any more “good days”- they are mostly bad. Each day she progresses worse and worse and this disease takes a little more of her memory one piece at a time. However, I know that she will never forget me, she will never forget my family. Nan will always be Nan on the inside, and I ask people to help in any way they can for her. To help for the others in the nursing homes, to the ones that don’t remember their own family, and to the ones that need the care the most.

In my sorority, my “big” is currently the philanthropy chair, and I wish to take over her spot when it comes time to pick new chairs. Sigma Kappa does an extraordinary job at getting the word out and raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association, and I am so so beyond blessed to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

Very recently, within the past three weeks or so, I have been interested in pursuing a minor in Neuroscience. I wish to do this to know more about the brain and Alzheimer’s. Maybe even find a cure. There is a cure out there, it is just a matter of finding it.

Alzheimer’s does things to a person that many cannot understand. For example, a lot of Nan’s actions don’t make sense, and she knows that. Recently, she tried to flush her sock down the toilet just because. We asked her why and she says “I don’t know, I just can’t remember”. Her sentences have become a word salad. Most of the time it is very difficult to comprehend what she is trying to say. If she can’t  get it out, she shakes her head in disappointment because she knows she is trying so hard to remember and to get it out. She knows that she is not doing well. She knows that she cannot remember. She knows that the things she does is silly and do not make sense. But what she does not know is why. She asks me constantly, “Missy, why can’t I remember?” I have to respond with “It’s just the Alzheimer’s Nan, it’s not you. It’s the Alzheimer’s.”

I constantly pray that there will soon be a cure for this disease.  This is a beyond heart-wrenching disease that I believe some people do not witness first-hand and I hope that my story inspires others to donate or to spread the word, for people like Nan. One of my favorite quotes that we use in Sigma Kappa for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is, “Never Forget Those Who Cannot Remember.””

Carissa is participating in the Peoria Walk to end Alzheimer’s as a Sigma Kappa Beta Nu team member. She hopes to raise $500 in honor of her Nan.

Want to join Carissa in her fight against Alzheimer’s and other dementias? Register for your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today!

Want to share your “Why I Walk” story? Email lgunty@alz.org for more information 



Why I Walk: Melanie

“On December 12, 2013, my family received the news my 59 year old mother had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). It didn’t take long to search the internet and figure out how terrible this disease was and how our lives were going to change very quickly.

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Melanie and her mother

While the Alzheimer’s Association is easily identified as a resource for those living with and caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia), many people do not realize their services are available to caregivers and those diagnosed with other forms of dementia.

I walk to raise awareness for other types of brain diseases. Numbers of people, even the most educated doctors, have not heard of FTD and are not familiar with the signs and symptoms. Much like Alzheimer’s it is difficult to diagnose and can be mistaken for other illnesses or disorders.


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Melanie, her dad and her sister at the 2015 Quincy Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Last year was my first year participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s but it won’t be the last. While there is no cure for dementia, and it is ultimately fatal, I hope with the work the Alzheimer’s Association is doing and the awareness walk participants are bringing to the disease, there one day will be. By calling attention to the disease, I hope others become familiar with the signs, symptoms and overwhelming statistics.


The company I work for, Dot Foods, became a National sponsor in 2015. The founder of Dot Foods was stricken with Alzheimer’s so it hits close to home for many employees. Last year, as a company, we contributed over $151,000 to the Association. Our largest fundraiser in our Illinois location this year will, be the Beat You Muddy obstacle run. Dot will match dollar for dollar all proceeds from this fundraiser.” Find out more about Beat You Muddy here.

Melanie is participating in the Quincy Walk to end Alzheimer’s as an Illinois DotFoods team member. She hopes to raise $500 in honor of her mother, who passed at the age of 61 on May 16, 2015.

Want to join Melanie in her fight against Alzheimer’s and other dementias? Register for your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today!


Want to share your “Why I Walk” story? Email lgunty@alz.org for more information