Valley Life for All: Meet Sheryl and Diane as they redefine the perception of challenge | AspenTimes.com

Valley Life for All: Meet Sheryl and Diane as they redefine the perception of challenge

Erin Gallimore
Special to The Aspen Times

Diane and Sheryl

Editor's note: The Aspen Times, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, is presenting a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities. Twenty-seven percent of Americans experience some disability. One hundred percent are a part of our community. Each has a story.

Sheryl is loving and generous in heart. She has a loving husband, family and friends. Sheryl has Young Onset Alzheimer's and after her diagnosis has, amazingly, become an artist.

Sheryl's story as told by her sister, Diane:

My name is Diane Darling. My sister, Sheryl, was diagnosed with Young Onset Alzheimer's almost six years ago. She was exhibiting symptoms of memory loss and we began consulting with a neurologist, trying to figure out what was going on. By process of elimination and the fact that all her symptoms lined up, she finally received this life-changing diagnosis. Young Onset has to do with the age symptoms appear, and that it is diagnosed before 65. Early Onset means one is in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is not an easy journey. It is fraught with the pain of watching someone you love lose themselves and everything that makes them unique. It is painful for family and friends to witness the decline. I can admit to feeling "ripped off" of my big sister, my best friend and confidant. Sheryl has no short-term memory. Anything that comes into her brain bounces back. There is no retention, no absorption. Everything about her life is about what is happening in the moment. She's also lost most all her long-term memory, including anything from our childhood or about our parents. Thankfully, they aren't here to witness this, as it would break their heart as it does mine.

Roaring Fork Enrichment (www.mycommunityhealthfoundation.org/brain-train) is a program that provides a safe place for people with early memory loss to thrive and to provide respite for caregivers. Sheryl lights up when she is at the program. There, she is treated with love and respect and can focus on art. Her ability to communicate is greatly affected because she has aphasia, which is the loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand spoken or written language due to disease or injury of the brain. Part of what breaks my heart about this disease is that she was the vice president of a major corporation. So, whereas her world used to be wide, her world is now narrow and narrowing daily. However, she, amazingly, has become an artist through Alzheimer's! She paints and has had exhibits all around the valley.

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You may come across a person with dementia (Alzheimer's is one form of dementia) if you witness someone displaying the following characteristics: difficulty communicating, getting lost, becoming frustrated or exhibiting confusion, repeating words or phrases, poor judgement and/or unusual or inappropriate behavior.

It would be helpful for you to: treat the person with dignity and respect, avoid "talking past" the person as if they are not there, be patient and supportive, let the person know you are listening and trying to understand and encourage them to continue, avoid criticizing or correcting and offer comfort and reassurance.

If you follow these tips, our valley will become that much more inclusive!

Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. We want to hear your voice. Request a training or join the conversation at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or #voicability4all. Help us redefine the perception of challenge.

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