Walking the walk: Associate taking big ‘steps’ to honor ailing aunt

Walking the walk: Associate taking big ‘steps’ to honor ailing aunt 

Photo of family affected by Alzheimer's and cerebral palsy. Walk to End Alzheimer's - Empower Retirement

From afar, Matt Stoltzfus knew Alzheimer’s was a devastating disease.

He heard stories.

He read articles.

He saw commercials.

But Stoltzfus had no idea just how “truly awful the illness really is” until his aunt was diagnosed with a form of dementia late last summer. That’s when he began to witness the debilitating effects of the widespread disorder on a more personal level, as she slowly lost the ability to speak, walk and focus. Other struggles for his aunt include trouble bathing, getting dressed and performing routine tasks.  

“It’s turned my entire family’s world completely upside down,” said Stoltzfus, a special products solutions consultant at Empower. “I thought I understood the challenges it causes, but it’s much worse than I imagined.”

“This thing is real.”

Now, as he prepares to participate in his first Walk to End Alzheimer’s event, Stoltzfus is hoping for real change.

This year’s parade, which is scheduled for Sept. 19 for Denver-area residents, will be of the virtual variety due to coronavirus concerns as locals are encouraged to engage in an interactive online adventure in their community. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, individuals who sign up can download the Walk to End Alzheimer's app on their mobile device to follow a digital path on the go, upload photos online and add their overall number of steps to the grand total from across the nation.

In Stoltzfus’ case, he plans on enjoying a stroll around his neighborhood with his wife and two children in an effort to raise money, support and awareness for the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.*

“This is a small role I can play to help in this ongoing battle,” Stoltzfus said. “I’m proud to represent my aunt.”

Empower is joining the fight, too.

The company is teaming up with the Denver Broncos to help spread the word when it comes to defeating this epidemic. From Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, both Empower and the NFL club will donate $1 to the Alzheimer’s Association (up to $15,000 each) when associates generate a post or share any note from Empower’s or the Broncos’ social media channels with the hashtags #Walk2EndALZ and #EmpowerACTs.

Also, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mountain time on Sept. 18, patrons can drive through the view-only Promise Garden at Empower Field at Mile High to experience a dynamic flower display in honor of those impacted by Alzheimer’s.

“This is a great way to get involved and take action to bring attention to a very important purpose,” said Angie Ruddell, engagement and corporate social responsibility manager at Empower. “With this fun approach, employees still have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For Stoltzfus, who started his career with Empower in 2009, he’s set on going the extra mile as an advocate for his aunt.

It was about three years ago when Stoltzfus’ uncle, Tom, noticed something wasn’t right with his wife, Barb. The first major warning sign appeared when she repeatedly forgot to place the coffee pot on the machine, resulting in a hot mess in the kitchen, a damaged floor to fix and, eventually, a visit to the doctor.

“Stuff like that happened often,” said Stoltzfus, whose aunt and uncle live in Nevada. “Little things here and there.”

Barb’s mental state has continued to steadily decline over time, as she currently requires around-the-clock care.

As if that heartbreak wasn’t enough, Tom recently made the difficult decision to have his 44-year-old daughter Mandy — who has suffered from Cerebral palsy since birth — transferred to a nearby skilled-nursing facility. He initially attempted to watch over both his wife and his daughter at home, but he wanted to ensure Mandy still receives the adequate aid she needs while he looks after Barb.

“My uncle is a tough guy,” Stoltzfus said. “He was exhausted. He tried his best to keep everyone together.”

While Stoltzfus’ uncle provides Barb with as much love, comfort and assistance as he possibly can on his own, a caregiver also stops by throughout the week to help with feeding, exercise and treatment. It also allows Tom a chance to get out of the house and unwind on the golf course for 18 holes.

“People need to know how hard she worked for her whole life, ” Tom said. “Now she doesn’t know what day it is.”

In 2020, Barb is one of more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, with two-thirds of those being women.*

To Stoltzfus, that’s one too many.

“At some point, we have to find a cure,” Stoltzfus said. “I want to do my part to help shed light on this condition.”

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