A Family’s Journey

Two Loyola students speak out to share how Alzheimer’s has touched their family

By Stephanie Weaver

Colleen and Katie Kammerer’s father, Brian, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when they were 6 and 5 years old.

The memory of the evening he was diagnosed is vague for Colleen, now a senior biology major and marketing minor at Loyola University Maryland. She remembers her parents urging her, her sister, and her brother down to the basement one evening when a doctor knocked on the door. She remembers their dinner of McDonald’sa special treat that they rarely got to eat.

Looking back, she recalls seeing her mother with her face in her palms that evening. At the time, the 6-year-old didn’t think anything of it.

Five years later, her parents told Colleen and Katie that their father had early-onset Alzheimer’s. Their brother, Patrick, ’14, 8 years old at the time, had already known the news. Her mother assured them everything would be fine, but that their dad would stop working and their daily routine would change.

“I was still too young to fully understand what this meant and how it was going completely change my dad,” Katie said. She was only 10 at the time. Now, she’s a junior speech pathology and audiology major at Loyola.

Impact on a Family

Their mother went back to work—a strange change in the household since their father had been the family breadwinner, working long hours as a chief financial officer of a small hedge fund in New York City.

The Kammerer family made it work, even with three very active children who would soon be heading off to college.

At first, Brian forgot words and phrases. He stuttered. As the disease worsened, he began forgetting people and names, including his own family members.

“When I was 17, my dad forgot who I was. I was still living at home, so I couldn’t understand why or how he could forget my name, and that I was his daughter and had been for 17 years,” Colleen said.

After Katie’s first year at Loyola, Brian couldn’t communicate, control his own bodily functions, shower himself, or even brush his teeth. The family had to make a decision. They placed Brian in the dementia unit of a round-the-clock care nursing home, where he continues to live. He is the youngest man in the home with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Most people don’t imagine moving their parents into a nursing home until much later in life, but I had to move my father into one when I was still a kid,” Colleen said.

Raising Their Voices

Colleen and Katie will speak about their experience with this disease and being caretakers for their father at Raise Your Voice for Care, a day-long event to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, on Friday, Oct. 23, in McGuire Hall on Loyola’s Evergreen campus. The event is hosted by the Loyola Clinical Centers, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA).

The Kammerer sisters will also be helping to start an AFA campus organization for other students who have been personally impacted by this disease. Katie believes a campus organization is essential, so that other students who have a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s can connect and cope.

Colleen agrees. “Since my dad has been sick for 15 years, there have been a lot of different impacts and changes that Alzheimer’s had had on my life. I now realize how hard being a caretaker is, and how much stress caretaking has on one’s life,” she said.

“The caretaker has to watch someonewho they love more than anythingdisappear… but also have to make up for the missing parts of the Alzheimer’s patient’s memories and take care of them.”

Learn more about Raise Your Voice for Care.

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