Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation. Further, the Foundation estimates that one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, taking the lives of more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. And although the novel coronavirus won’t allow for a large crowd to assemble for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s this year, small groups and teams will still take to the streets – or more likely sidewalks – throughout the state from the end of September until mid-October. Daniel Horrigan works for PACE, and he will be taking place in the Metro Detroit walk scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26.
“The PACE program is a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,” Horrigan explained. “Our primary mission is to help low-income, nursing-home eligible adults remain independent in their homes for as long as possible. In graduate school, I focused a lot of my work on older adults and this mission that is dedicated to both health care and dignity was really in line with my values. PACE was at the top of my list when seeking post-grad employment.”
Horrigan did not always dream of becoming a geriatric social worker. Living in New York, he ran a theater company for 15 years.
“A lot of the work our company did was social justice-oriented,” he said. “As my colleagues and I decided to move on to new endeavors, I became eager to dedicate myself more directly to social change and decided on social work as a new career path. I did some volunteer work with older adults. I chose them because I had no experience working with this population and I wanted to lean into that discomfort. I volunteered at an adult daycare center in my neighborhood and it was like coming home. Turns out having a background in theatre is really helpful when working with people who have dementia.
“Creativity and improv are helpful skills when handling dementia symptoms,” Horrigan continued. “Also being loud and animated is a good fit for people who have low vision or hearing. Haha. So, it was after this experience that I committed to a social work career focusing on older adults. My boyfriend Roman had his sights set on moving to Detroit. I was in love with him and thought Detroit would be a unique social work experience. So, five years later, I’m still in love with him and very much in love with Detroit.”
But it’s not always an easy job. He said that his biggest challenges are the people who have limited social support and are in the early stages of dementia.
“These people are often not aware of or not in agreement with their diagnosis,” he said. “They’re at risk for self -neglect and unsafe decision making. That’s a tough situation. It can be a tricky balancing act of keeping them safe, independent, and maintaining their dignity.”
Still, the job must have its rewards?
“That’s a great question for a social worker because it’s a nice reality check. The successes for me are all of the clients I have who are thriving in their homes with my help and PACE’ Southeast Michigan’s services … and that’s honestly the majority of them,” he said.
The COVID-19 crisis has, however, brought with it its own set of difficulties. Horrigan said that seniors and people with dementia often have very little social and recreational opportunities and the pandemic has limited the options even further.
“People who generally attend an adult day program or senior center are no longer able to,” he said. “This is affecting depression levels, which is very interwoven with cognition. So we are seeing many older adults coming through this pandemic debilitated, depressed and with cognitive decline.”
Caregivers are feeling the impacts, too.
“Some caregivers are home all day, 24 hours a day with their loved one. These folks counted on these day programs, senior centers and respite opportunities so that they can recharge or get work done,” Horrigan said. “We can assume that there is a higher level of caregiver burnout during the pandemic.”
For all those reasons and more, Horrigan said he felt like it was more important now than ever to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
“This is my first year doing Walk. I interned with the Alzheimer’s Association in my second year of grad school. Their approach, programs and interventions for people with dementia and their caregivers are so simple, elegant and effective,” he said. “I decided to walk this year because I see the impact that the pandemic is having on people with dementia every minute of every day on the job. I see it with their caregivers. So, I’m walking for my clients and their caregivers in a year where fundraising is especially challenging.”
In line with his theatrical background, Horrigan has found a way to make the walk fun.
“I reached out to some friends to walk with me and asked for a name. I wanted something sort of gay and fabulous. My friend Jodi, who is a classic film buff, suggested The Rita Hayworths. Rita Hayworth was a glamorous and prolific film star of the ’30s and ’40s. She passed away from Alzheimer’s at 68 in 1980, which is pretty young for this disease,” he said. ” She is considered to have had early onset Alzheimer’s. Given her star power and diagnosis, this seemed a good fit. We just added two additional Y’s to her name to make it extra gay.”
Individual walks are taking place across the state from Sept. 12 to Oct. 11 and donations continue to be accepted from those who missed the walks in their areas. Visit alz.org/walk or call 800-272-3900 if you are interested in participating in or donating to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s or to learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association’s programs and services.