Leah Huxtable is determined to not let her children watch their mother slip away from a disease that has taken a toll on her family as it progresses from bad to worse.
The Woodbury woman’s grandmother died of Alzheimer’s, and now her mother, Lucy, is suffering from early onset at just 64 years old.
“Last week, she started to forget my kids, and she sees them every day,” Leah said, “which is heartbreaking.”
The family is hosting a big fundraising bash for the Alzheimer’s Association right in their backyard, hoping to top last year’s $8,000 number by inviting the public. The team raised a total of $17,000 last year from the party and the annual walk at Target Field.
Leah and her team of about 30, “I Love Lucy,” is also being recognized as the 2014 honorary family with Leah sharing her story in front of 5,000 people at the event.
The “I Love Lucy” team has been a part of the annual walk since Lucy was diagnosed four years ago. At 59 years old, she was a fourth grade teacher who hadn’t planned to retire just yet.
It started out with her forgetting things here and there or if she was scheduled to babysit her grandchildren.
Then one day Leah and her three siblings were all together with their mom when they began asking each other if they’d noticed anything different about their mother.
“We were all comparing notes, so to speak,” she said. “Have you seen mom do this, or do that?”
Not long after, they took her to the Mayo Clinic for a number of tests and scans that determined her diagnosis.
So she retired and moved in with Leah.
Although it wasn’t a surprise due to the family history with her grandmother and great uncle suffering from the disease, Leah and her family were still devastated to hear the news.
“This disease, it can be a totally different story for every person,” Leah said. “It can progress and stall for even two years or it can progress and stall for two weeks.”
Now they’re taking it day by day. Lucy’s short-term memory has been affected more than her long-term memory – she could forget something that happened five minutes ago, but things that happened 20 years ago are still alive, though they can be a little jumbled up at times.
“The memories are still there, but just not in order,” Leah said.
Leah’s grandmother experienced the same thing, only worse. At one point her mind went way back to the days she was caring for her babies.
“She carried a baby doll with her for weeks and thought it was my mom Lucy,” Leah said.
Lucy’s mother eventually escaped from the nursing home and was found asleep with her friend in a hayloft a few miles away.
Lucy is the youngest of three sisters. They knew one of them would get Alzheimer’s sooner or later, she just didn’t think it would be so soon.
“I’m mad,” she said. “I’m on my own.”
In addition to raising funds for research, Leah is hoping Lucy and her three sisters will participate in genetic testing that could potentially pinpoint the source of the disease in the brain and stop it in its tracks.
“They’re such a prime example,” she said, adding that three sisters are so alike in that they resemble their mother so much, while the fourth is more like their father.
And because Leah is the spitting image of Lucy, “I just know that I’m the next one,” she said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer’s for a woman in her 60s is 1 in 6, compared to breast cancer, which is 1 in 11.
Leah, 35, said her generation should be the one to tackle this growing disease. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 baby boomers will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the next 20 years.
“People don’t realize how prevalent this disease is,” she said, adding that it’s a public health crisis and “the care for people with memory issues is unbelievably hard.”
The “I Love Lucy” team has been participating in the annual walk for four years, but started the “Backyard Bash to Alzheimer’s” last year to help raise even more funds.
The first bash gathered up 110 guests and raised $8,000. This year, Leah is planning an even bigger party with a DJ, band, food and drinks, in hopes of raising $12,000. With the walk, they’re shooting for $20,000 to $25,000.
The public is invited to the party, which will be held from 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13 at Leah’s Bailey’s Arbor home. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased online at http://bit.ly/1nJz2Gh. For more information, visit, http://on.fb.me/VQxZNh.
The 2014 Twin Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a 3-mile route or a 1-mile shortcut walk slated for Saturday, Sept. 27 with a goal to raise $1 million. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. followed by opening ceremonies at 9 a.m.
“I will not let our children go through this,” Leah said. “We have to find a cure.”