BY SALLY KAY, ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION
“My mom was always the first to show up with a hug, flowers, vegetables from her garden, freshly baked bread to share with friends and family during celebrations or troubled times. Her genuine care and concern for others was evident in the way she lived her life before the disease,” shares Laura Turner’s daughter, Margaret Turner. A Moravian Church member with a master’s in psychology, and 30-year tenure as an Honors English teacher, Laura’s roots in Forsyth County expanded further through her advocacy for children, women and the LGBTQ+ community. Her husband, Charles Turner added, “She loved to organize our family trips, making sure that the trips were educational for everybody.”
The Turner family began noticing subtle changes in Laura close to ten years ago. “Mom was always an avid reader,” offered daughter Elizabeth Turner. “We noticed that she stopped reading books and talking about new books that she had read.” Additionally, she had more difficulty retrieving words and articulating her thoughts. “Laura began to have problems with orientation when driving, difficulties making change at a store, and became unable to recall messages that had been left,” said Charles, Laura’s primary caregiver. Given his background as a former pediatric surgeon at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, Charles proactively took Laura for cognitive testing, which confirmed, at the age of 66, that she had the early stages of mild cognitive impairment, which eventually progressed to Alzheimer’s. Additionally, Laura participated in a number of memory care studies at Wake Forest University and clinical trials.
Laura’s ability to care for herself became harder after spinal surgery for stenosis, and she was moved to the memory care community at Salemtowne in March 2021. “We are very thankful that Mom is living with her peers who share similar interests,” offers Margaret. They know that she is safe and enjoys gardening, bird watching and walking the trails. “Laura’s conversation is limited, but what she is able to share is beautiful,” says Charles. “She smiles when we come to visit and loves seeing the grandchildren run around.”
“We really were not that involved with the Alzheimer’s Association when we were navigating this journey,” recalls Margaret. “I wish we had been, and had known about all the resources that are available, not only for our family, but also for Dad as her caregiver and for Mom herself. In sharing our story, I realize how many people are impacted by Alzheimer’s, either at the infancy level of diagnosis, or those whose loved ones have lived with the disease for some time.” She believes the Association provides a great opportunity for support, conversations and transparency about how difficult it is. “During the early stages it was really hard for us to talk about it—perhaps we were in denial. But the more you talk about it, the more you realize you are not alone. There are others who are dealing with similar situations.”
Soon after Laura moved to Salemtowne, a Salemtowne staff member and committee member for “Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Winston-Salem” reached out and suggested that the family get involved with this year’s November 6th event. Subsequently, Team Turner—sisters and their family members, friends and church members—was formed and has already exceeded their initial fundraising goal of $10,000! “The support we have felt from friends near and far has been so healing for our family,” affirms Elizabeth. “Sharing our story has opened up a community of people who have shared their stories with us.”
“In creating a conversation around Alzheimer’s, I hope to be part of breaking the stigmas around mental illness and supporting others in similar situations,” adds Laura’s daughter, Catherine Greene. “In the fundraising and awareness-raising through social media alone, we have heard others’ stories. Sadly, almost everyone has a personal connection.”
“We are looking forward to the Walk in the fall to show support, not only for our family, but for all the families that are suffering from this disease,” concludes Charles. “The difficulty that this brings to a marriage and the family, is that conversations about past events are no longer necessary and no longer able to happen. The devastation from Alzheimer’s and thoughts about that lead to a very dark place. Our hope is to bring light to that dark place for families.”
Forsyth Family is proud to be a media partner for the 2021 “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” events in Mount Airy on September 18th and in Winston-Salem on November 6th. To join us and the Turner Family, sign up as a walker, team captain, or sponsor at alz.org/walk, or by calling 800-272-3900.