Woman knits to fight Alzheimer’s in memory of grandparents | #students | #parents

Dementia has had a very personal impact for Eileen Hendriksen of West Haverstraw. A care consultant and director of early-stage services for the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter, she lost two of her grandparents to dementia.

“My Grandpa was like a father to me,” Hendriksen said, “He was always proud of me, he’d think nothing of telling a complete stranger about my latest report card or how many books I checked out of the library that week.”

She described a close and fun-loving relationship filled with pizza, Dunkin Donuts, watching “Wheel of Fortune” and enjoying their mutual hobby of photography. After all those good times, she said watching her grandfather go through the disease was one of the most difficult things she ever witnessed.

In 2001, Hendriksen’s grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease with dementia. She said he likely had Parkinson’s for years, as he had a hand tremor for a long time. However, the signs of dementia only came after he underwent surgery. Hendriksen said there were no warning signs of him developing dementia until he was already displaying symptoms. Her family was left with little guidance or resources to help him.

“It was scary for all of us, and the doctors did not give us any guidance or help,” she recalled. “He had no short-term memory, no orientation to time and place, delusions and visual hallucinations. He needed help with all of his activities of daily living. He wandered, he was incontinent, and he had poor balance. Then he had lucid moments where he was just so depressed about being a burden to his family.”

Hendriksen learned of the Alzheimer’s Association in 2013 while working toward her bachelor’s degree in social work at Dominican College in Blauvelt. Her professor at the time was Debra Kagan-Birkelend, a care consultant and director of family support group services for the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter.

“Once I learned more about the Alzheimer’s Association, I fell in love with the organization and everyone here. I wish we had known more about it at the time because of all the resources and support available to those on this journey,” Hendriksen said.

Since her internship, Hendriksen has been deeply involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. She began working as a care consultant for the Association in 2019 and decided to harness her creativity and passion by knitting to raise money to support the organization. The inspiration came from another of her loved ones, her Oma.

“She was an avid knitter and crocheter,” Hendriksen recalled, “I asked her to make me a hat once, and she made me three different ones in different colors so I’d be sure to like one of them, and I have two beautiful afghans from her.”

Oma was showing signs of dementia and had given up her passion of knitting and crocheting because she could no longer remember where she left off. One day, Hendriksen’s father visited her, and her house was full of smoke.

“She had put a cake in the oven hours earlier, forgot about it, and didn’t notice it burning,” Hendriksen recalled.

Soon Oma was having difficulty recognizing family when they came to visit. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011.

Hendriksen said the Alzheimer’s Association provided her helpful resources and support that she was able to share with her father. “My father is not the type to reach out, but I was able to feed him information and resources for Oma,” she said.

Before Oma’s passing in January 2020, Hendriksen taught herself how to knit, which helped her feel more connected to her grandmother. Now she sells her scarves, hats, lap blankets, prayer shawls and other creations on her Longest Day fundraising page. All the money she makes goes to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Hendriksen suggests those interested in benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association reach out to Longest Day Event Manager, Lauren Voorhees. “If you have an idea — or even no idea — she is incredibly helpful and will guide you to figure out exactly what you want to do,” she said.

About The Longest Day

The Longest Day is a fundraising event that allows participants to create their own fundraisers doing any activity they choose. On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, these efforts are celebrated. Visit alz.org/tld to learn more, make a donation or register to participate.

About the Hudson Valley Chapter

The Hudson Valley Chapter serves families living with dementia in seven counties in New York, including Duchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester. To learn more about the programs and services offered locally, visit alz.org/hudsonvalley.

About the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association leads the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all dementia. Visit alz.org.

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