Family Portrait Luncheon to raise money for Alzheimer’s fight

Family Portrait Luncheon

The Alzheimer’s Association of Southeast Texas is hosting the third annual Family Portrait Luncheon on Tuesday, Nov. 18, and the public is invited to purchase tickets to the event that will raise funds to battle Alzheimer’s disease and assist those dealing with the debilitating condition.

From all accounts, Alzheimer’s disease is a frightening illness. Those diagnosed with the deadly, degenerative disease – a total exceeding 5 million people in the United States, according to statistics provided by the Alzheimer’s Association – face memory loss spiraling down into dementia, loss of control of bodily functions and, ultimately, death.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) website explains, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder characterized by a steady decline in cognitive, behavioral and physical abilities severe enough to interfere with everyday life and necessitate full-time care. Symptoms vary from person to person, but all people with Alzheimer’s disease have problems with memory loss, disorientation and thinking ability. Individuals with Alzheimer’s might have trouble finding the right words to use, recognizing everyday objects, recognizing family and friends, and might become frustrated, irritable and agitated. As the disease progresses, physical problems include loss of strength and balance, and diminishing bladder and bowel control. As more and more of the brain is affected, areas that control basic life functions, like swallowing and breathing, become irreversibly damaged, resulting eventually in death.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 67 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in America. The group estimates approximately 500,000 people are dying from the disease each year. Nearly one in three seniors who die each year suffer from Alzheimer’s or another dementia. More than 340,000 Texans suffer from Alzheimer’s, including more than 140,000 in Southeast Texas. The cost of caring for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to total $214 billion for 2014.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s research, care and support, the group reports. The group aims to eradicate Alzheimer’s, or at least find improved solutions to care for and extend the lives of the millions of Americans who suffer from it, and to provide assistance and education to families and caregivers of the disease’s victims. That’s exactly why the Nov. 18 fundraiser is so important. Funds raised at the event will go toward those needs, according to representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeast Texas.

Event co-chairs Jo Beth Jenkins, Gerri Christopher and Linda Domino say they are excited to bring the Family Portrait Luncheon back for the third consecutive year, and all hope for a huge turnout to raise funds for a cause that is close to their hearts.

“My mother has dementia,” relates Jenkins, who says she accepted an invitation from long-time friend Domino to co-chair because of her personal convictions. “I felt like I could help. I feel so strongly about educating people about Alzheimer’s and caregiving. What’s so important about this luncheon is that it’s a fundraiser, but more than that, it is a means to provide the tools necessary to educate people and caregivers. The disease touches a lot of people’s lives.”

Jenkins said she and her sister, fellow co-chair Gerri Christopher, went through a very emotional time when their mother started showing signs of dementia. Some time ago, said Christopher, she was frustrated by her mother’s forgetfulness, constantly having to remind her childhood caregiver of details pertaining to simple matters such as doctors’ appointments. She was upset and did not initially realize her mother’s apparent absentmindedness was the symptom of a serious illness, Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was very difficult,” Christopher said of learning of her mother’s condition. “My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and three of his four daughters, including my mother, were also diagnosed with it. Because it is so prevalent in our family, I feel very passionate about raising money for this disease. There are so many families affected. We are hoping for a cure, or at least better, more effective medications through research.”

Domino said she too has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother-in-law suffers from dementia, and she has been helping care for her at times. She said funds generated at the luncheon would be used to further the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association and fund dementia-specific educational programs, care consultations, the 24/7 HELPline at (409) 833-1613 or (800) 272-3900, and early-stage memory loss programs in Southeast Texas; a percentage of the funds would also be used for Alzheimer’s research and education.

“The luncheon benefits programs of the Alzheimer’s Association in Southeast Texas,” Domino said. “The goal is to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s and to raise funds to support educational programs pertaining to Alzheimer’s all across Southeast Texas. Our goal is a world without Alzheimer’s.”

Until that world crosses from dream into reality, Domino said the group also focuses on ways to help Alzheimer’s victims and their families, including providing advice to caregivers. Caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers face unique challenges. The Alzheimer’s Association offers support to caregivers in a variety of ways. For example, at this year’s event, a special guest will address the exceptional circumstances faced by caregivers.

The keynote speaker at this year’s Family Portrait Luncheon, Dr. Tam Cummings, will explore the processes of Alzheimer’s disease and the challenges of caregiving. Cummings is an internationally recognized author of the best-selling book “Untangling Alzheimer’s,” educator, speaker, and gerontologist dedicated to the study of dementia. According to her website, Cummings, founder of the Dementia Association, attempts to untangle the complexities of dementia, and has helped thousands of families and professional care partners understand the stages of dementia and the process of the disease. Cummings provides private consultation and education services to families, extensive education courses for nurses, social workers, administrators and activity directors, keynote addresses and breakout sessions on dementia or the aging process for national, state or regional conferences and individualized programming for dementia and memory care communities.

For information regarding special resources for caregivers, visit the association’s website at

Guests of this year’s luncheon get access to a delicious meal, a fantastic speaker and the dulcet tones of local favorite Jimmy Simmons, who is providing music for the Family Portrait Luncheon. Janey Phelan is this year’s honorary chair for the event, which is being held at the Beaumont Country Club, 5355 Pine St. in Beaumont. Registration and seating begin at 11 a.m. The luncheon and program start at 11:30 a.m. Complimentary valet parking will be provided. Guests are invited to bring table-top, framed pictures of a family member or friend to display at the luncheon to honor and remember loved ones who have been affected by Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Several raffle items will also be available at the event.

Individual seats are available for $60, and individual seat sponsorships are available from $150 to $1,500. Sponsorships and Underwriting Opportunities are available ranging from $1500 to $15000 for tables of 10. Contact Clarissa Urban, Southeast Texas Alzheimer’s Association Outreach Coordinator, at (409) 833-1613 or curban [at] alz [dot] org for more information or to answer any questions.

About 400 attendees helped raise more than $85,000 for Alzheimer’s educational programs, care, and support in Southeast Texas and for research at the Family Portrait Luncheon in 2013. Assist the association in exceeding that goal by purchasing your ticket to this year’s Family Portrait Luncheon, and help eliminate Alzheimer’s.