WARWICK - Anna Ferrara of Warwick is a high school senior who will turn 18 in July. Her grandmother, Sonia, who suffers from dementia, is a former Manhattan resident who moved to Puerto Rico a few years ago to care for her mother, who is 98. Shortly after arriving there, however, she began showing signs of memory loss.
Ferrara said her family is not sure what kind of dementia her grandmother has because she has resisted being tested.
“She thinks it’s just old age. She’s very in denial about it, but she agrees that she doesn’t remember. I just don’t think she realizes the extent,” she said.
The family first noticed something was off when she began losing her train of thought in the middle of conversations. Eventually, she forgot how to cook, something she had always done when family were around. She also started to forget family members’ names.
“She’d be talking about my father and forget his name, or mine or my mother’s, and she’d be confused about who we were,” Ferrara recalled. “You would have to keep reiterating it for her to remember, reminding her about my cousins and stuff like that.”
Now her grandmother and great-grandmother are caring for each other. She said her great-grandmother’s memory is strong, but she is physically frail because of her advanced age. They also have lots of extended family and friends who live only a few minutes away and help out.
“There’s always someone in the house,” she said. ‘They have like a big support system down there.”
When it came time for Ferrara to do a senior fundraising project for school, she decided Alzheimer’s was the cause she wanted to benefit by holding a run/walk.
“I just wanted to bring awareness because I feel that it’s a topic that’s not talked about enough, and I felt there was a sense of shame about it from family members,” she said. “They want to almost ignore it because the person is still physically there but they’re forgetting stuff - it’s like the disease is taking them over.”
Ferrara needed a mentor for her project, so she reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association’s home office. They referred her to Lauren Voorhees at the Hudson Valley Chapter, who manages a variety of fundraisers including The Longest Day, Subzero Heroes and the Rockland Walk to End Alzheimer’s. When Voorhees learned what Ferrara was seeking to do, she recommended Ferrara set it up as a Longest Day event.
The Longest Day encourages participants to choose any activity they like on any day they like to create their own fundraiser. Their efforts are celebrated on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, in honor of the long days spent by caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Voorhees said she was impressed by Ferrara’s initiative. “Anna is an enthusiastic self-starter, committed to making a difference in her community,” she said.
Ferrara’s 5K was originally scheduled for May 3, but with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in early March, her plans had to change.
“Maybe two or three weeks ago, when the pandemic started getting a lot worse, I emailed the village clerk in Warwick, and the village clerk said the mayor didn’t want any events where there were a lot of people,” she said.
Ferrara changed her event to a Facebook fundraiser, which to date has raised $800, half of its total goal of $1,600. You can donate by visiting act.alz.org/site/TR/LongestDay2020..
Of her efforts for the Alzheimer’s Association, she said, “I just wanted to bring more of a positive out of something so negative and maybe learn from other people’s experiences and make theirs less hard for them.”
For more information visit alz.org.