On the move to end Alzheimer’s: Care facilitator sponsors Memory Walk

PORT TOWNSEND — She was born in New Orleans in 1915. With only a sixth-grade education, she raised four children: Eddie, now a commander in the U.S. Navy; Jeffrey, a physicist; Ellen, who was a schoolteacher; and Robert, an architect.

Alma Trahan has traveled many miles and met many people since she was born almost 94 years ago. So it’s understandable that when Luke, her 14th great-grandchild, comes to visit, she has to be reminded of his name.

Known as Mama to her family, Alma lives at San Juan Villa, a home for people with memory loss caused by dementia, including Alzheimer’s.

The home is managed by her daughter-in-law, Karen Trahan, who is organizing the first Memory Walk in Jefferson County to show support for people and families dealing with dementia.

“People can walk to show support for a friend, neighbor or family member who has Alzheimer’s,” Trahan said, “or to show their support to find a cure of the disease.”

30 years’ experience

Trahan has worked in the dementia care field for 30 years and has been involved in Memory Walks for 18, starting with the first walk organized in Seattle.

She also was involved in Memory Walks when she worked at Hearthside Manor I Tacoma, and in Silverdale, where she lives.

“It’s a passion of mine,” she said. “I want to bring that passion to this community.”

Trahan knows what it’s like to have a family member with dementia. She took care of Alma, her mother-in-law, for several years and now oversees her care as a director of San Juan Villa.

Every time Trahan sees a resident smile or someone comes up to touch her face, she remembers what they and Alma have lost.

“They are physically there, but not mentally,” she said.

“It’s so hard to see. It’s heart-wrenching.”

It’s also devastating to see the faces of people in the early stages of the disease, who know what is going to happen to them, Trahan said.

That’s why in January, Trahan called Victoria House, Seaport Landing and Kah Tai Care Center to ask if they were interested in holding a Memory Walk to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association. She found that administrators were enthusiastic.

“It’s our responsibility as caregivers to go beyond our facility,” Trahan said of why she is organizing the event. “It’s our responsibility to support families who need our help.

“When I talk about being passionate, that’s where the passion comes from.”

Researchers have developed medicines that sustain portions of the memory, she said, research that would not be possible except for community support and donations.

Starting with 100 people, the Seattle Memory Walk she helped organize has grown to tens of thousands of participants, she said.

Her goal for the local walk, which will be Saturday, Sept. 12, from 9 am. to noon, is to raise $5,000, with donations of any size welcome.

Port Townsend Brewing Company, in the boat haven across from Safeway, has volunteered its courtyard and facilities for the starting and ending points for the walk, which is along the Larry Scott Trail, Trahan said.

The distance is a total of 4 miles — 2 miles along the waterfront and back — although participants can walk a shorter distance if they want, she said.

Safeway is providing water and granola bars for refreshment stations, and SOS donated the poster printing to publicize the event.

Boy Scout Troop No. 1477 will perform the opening flag ceremony at 9 a.m., and Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval will officially send the walkers on their way at 9:30 a.m., Trahan said.

People also can drive or walk to Victoria House, at 491 Discovery Road near Hastings; Seaport Landing, at 1201 Hancock St.; or San Juan Villa, where buses will be provided to take people to the boat haven and back, Trahan said, eliminating parking problems.

San Juan Villa, off San Juan Avenue, is a 32-bed community that provides a home for people from the early stages of dementia to end-of-life care, Trahan said.

The home also has support groups for families, she said, and offers respite care and day care, which includes meals, assistance and social activities — exercise, entertainment, gardening, cooking and arts and crafts.

“Sometimes families start with day care, move to respite care, then to move-in,” she said.

On Sept. 12, Trahan is walking for her mother-in-law, Alma, whose only daughter, Ellen, has died.

For more information about the Memory Walk, phone Trahan at San Juan Villa, 360-344-3114, or e-mail sjv@acaringplace.net.

Donations to the Alzheimer’s Association can be mailed to San Juan Villa, 112 Castellano Way, Port Townsend, 98368.

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Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjackson@olypen.com.

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