On Friday, Janeabeth Wells will dance for a woman she has known her entire life, but who doesn’t know her at all – her mother.
Over the past four years, Wells said she has watched her mother slowly fade from existence. The woman who raised her and taught her to work hard, the woman who married her father 50 years ago has slipped away, leaving behind a stranger who wanders around her father’s home aimlessly, unable to interact with or understand the world around her.
“She doesn’t know who she is; she doesn’t know who I am,” said Wells. “It is very sad.”
Wells said since her mother, Jane Bonner, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s more than four years ago at age 67, her decline has been heartbreakingly rapid.
“In four years she has gone from stage one to the very beginnings of stage seven, which is the last stage of Alzheimer’s,” she said, explaining that her mother needs constant care, lacking in ability to speak, feed herself or function in any capacity as an adult. “She went into hospice care on Friday.”
At first, her mother’s dementia began with small lapses of memory, which continued to grow worse and worse.
She remembers in November four years ago, her father, Tom Bonner, came home from church one day to find his wife missing. The entire family began searching.
“We just started driving,” she said. “That just sounds insane, but it is what we did.”
They eventually found her mother sitting in her car at a Cracker Barrel parking lot, confused and scared. Her Alzheimer’s diagnosis came not long after.
On Friday, Wells will be one of 11 local “stars” who will dance for Alzheimer’s Association’s fourth annual Dancing Stars of Augusta, at the Augusta Marriott Convention Center. The event, patterned after the popular “Dancing with the Stars” television show, is designed to raise money and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission, providing free support programs and services for people with Alzheimer’s and for their caregivers, to help them deal with the disease and its impact on their lives.
Wells will be dancing the paso doble with Matt Watson, a professional dancer with Ballroom in Motion. Her mother will not be there, but her father - who has been his wife’s sole caregiver for four years - will be watching.
“I know I will be emotional, but I hope I will keep it together,” she said. “It will be my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.”
Dee Dee Kurilla, regional director of development for the association’s Augusta Chapter, said the event has raised well over $400,000 since its inception, and they have hopes it will raise more than $200,000 this year.
“Which is insane,” said Kurilla, referring to the event’s success. “The first three years we did it at the Bell (Auditorium), but it has got a life of its own now, it has grown too big, so we moved it to the (convention center).”
She said the funds will help hundreds of families with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s. The organization provides free services in a 17-county area around Augusta.
Wells, executive assistant to the Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson, said the group’s support has been invaluable to her family since her mother’s diagnosis.
“What they do for families with Alzheimer’s is priceless,” she said.
DANCING STARS OF AUGUSTA
Vote for your favorite dancer and help raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association by going online to: http://act.alz.org/site/TR?fr_id=6112&pg=entry