Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is proud to sponsor Combined Health Agencies Drive (CHAD), a local organization that has been raising funds with and for Nebraska’s premier health charities, including The Alzheimer’s Association, since 1972.

Donna Stading-Smith’s father had “a sweet tooth the size of Texas.”

“The man could eat like a horse and never gain a pound,” she said. “We had fun with that.”

As a matter of fact, horses were an important part of the bond this father-daughter duo shared.

“Anything and everything that involved horses, whether it be a horse show, a county fair or 4-H, Dad was always beside me,” Stading-Smith said. “Because of the close relationship he and I had, I knew immediately when things were different.”

Stading-Smith’s father began showing signs of dementia in 2004.

“He came to get me when we were both in the barn and there was a horse lying down,” Stading-Smith said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Dad and I grew up with horses around us. My first ride was at three years of age, so for him to say that to me, I knew something had taken place mentally that we needed to get resolved.”

Stading-Smith’s father was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease affecting memory, thinking and behavior. To help care for him, Stading-Smith and her family built and moved into a house next to her parents.

Seeing the impact the disease had on her father and serving as a caregiver came with many emotional highs and lows: “It was an absolutely horrific experience every day because you’re watching your loved one disappear in front of you, and yet physically, they are still there.”

The family sought assistance from The Alzheimer’s Association Nebraska Chapter, a nonprofit health organization leading the way in Alzheimer’s care, support and research and bolstered in part by CHAD.

Stading-Smith’s family was not alone in its struggles with the disease. In fact, a growing number of Americans between 30 to 64 are being impacted by early-onset dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Health of America study released earlier this year.

Approximately 131,000 commercially insured Americans under 65 were diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s disease or early-onset dementia in 2017. That’s a 200% increase from 2013.

The study concludes that these health trends indicate a need for a focus on appropriate care for diagnosed individuals, as well as support for their caregivers as the disease progresses.

Support is exactly what the Alzheimer’s Association provides through resources, such as:

  • Support groups offered throughout the state
  • Workshops for caregivers
  • Connections to local physicians
  • And more

After discovering the resource, Stading-Smith became active with the Alzheimer’s Association, volunteering at fundraising events and training to become a community educator.

“It was a relief to be able to connect with people who currently or previously had experienced exactly what we were experiencing,” she said.

Stading-Smith’s father died Dec. 5, 2018. She continues to volunteer through the Alzheimer’s Association and remains committed to finding a cure.

“This disease doesn’t choose based on race, color, economic status or geographical area,” she said. “It just takes on whoever it wants to, and it is relentless. I am even more relentless at finding a cure.”

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