Alzheimer's activist inspired by her late mother
Lori Fulkerson has a hectic schedule. "I work at Maurices in their legal department full-time. I go to law school in the cities at Hamline every Saturday and Sunday, all day. I also have a family at home which includes a six-year-old boy. So my t...
Lori Fulkerson has a hectic schedule.
"I work at Maurices in their legal department full-time. I go to law school in the cities at Hamline every Saturday and Sunday, all day. I also have a family at home which includes a six-year-old boy. So my time is split in many directions," Fulkerson said.
But when Fulkerson was asked to become a facilitator for the Alzheimer's Association's caregiver support group four years ago, she didn't hesitate to add it to her schedule. This year, Fulkerson will be the honorary chair at the Duluth Area Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday, Oct. 4.
Fulkerson knows the difficulties of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. Her mother, Phyllis Tyler, died at age 56 in 2000 after an eight-year struggle with the disease.
"I think it was one of the hardest things I'll ever have to go through in my life, being such a young age and watching my mom deteriorate," Fulkerson said.
Fulkerson was in high school when her mother was first diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 48.
"It would be simple things at first. I'd come home late after a basketball game or practice and she'd be making dinner. I'd say 'Oh, mom, what's for dinner?' and she just couldn't come up with the words," Fulkerson said.
Later her mother would struggle to fill out checks and begin making odd choices. Her speech was one of the first things that went completely.
"That isn't very common for people with Alzheimer's. She could still understand what we were saying but she couldn't respond much. From there, she lost the ability to communicate altogether and began to wander off. That was a real dilemma for her because she couldn't talk and she would get lost," Fulkerson said.
However, it's not just her mother's condition that inspired Fulkerson.
"My mom was all about volunteering and giving back to people," Fulkerson said. "People would think she's crazy now. She used to pick up hitchhikers and take in stray animals."
Around the holidays, Fulkerson's mother would prepare meals for elderly neighbors and deliver them with her daughters before they ate their own holiday meal.
"She always did stuff like that. She just had such a big heart," Fulkerson said.
Fulkerson has volunteered with several Duluth organizations including Mentor Duluth, Veterans Legal Clinics and Congdon for the Junior Great Books and coached T-ball for the Easter Little League in Duluth. When she learned about the Duluth chapter of the Alzheimer's Association through her work at Maurices, she knew she wanted to be involved.
"It took quite a few years for me to separate myself emotionally to be able to give back and to help others going through a similar situation. But now I meet with caregivers to share tips and struggles the come along with the caregiving job," Fulkerson said.
Members of the support group are often caring for a parent, grandparent or spouse dealing with Alzheimer's. The group meets at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Miller Dwan Medical Center, 502 E 2nd St.
"It's a place to share ideas and support. Sometimes they need to vent. We try to not get down and allow too much venting, but they might need the outlet," Fulkerson said. "The biggest thing is letting them know that they're not alone. It really takes a toll on the caregiver."
Fulkerson will give a speech at the walk and share more of her mother's story. In the meantime, she says she hopes readers will offer help and support.
"You don't realize how hard it is to be a caregiver until you go through it. So if you know somebody who is a caregiver, all they need is a friend. All they need is someone to sit with their loved one for an hour while they go and get a cup of coffee or go for a walk. It just takes half an hour or an hour to help somebody. It doesn't take much," Fulkerson said.
If you go
Duluth Area Walk to End Alzheimer's
Saturday, Oct. 4, DECC
Registration at Paulucci Hall 8:30 a.m., opening ceremony 9:45 a.m., Walk at Bayfront Park 10 a.m.
Two miles with shorter routes available.
For information go to www.act.alz.org or call (218) 733-2560.