After losing her mother to Alzheimer’s, Vivian Trickey Smith has vowed to prevent other families from suffering without support.

What drew you to get involved with Alzheimer’s Arkansas?

Elise Siegler (president of Alzheimer’s Arkansas) asked me to help with the Advocate of the Year dinner in 2015. That is really the first time I knew anything about Alzheimer’s Arkansas and the outstanding work they do for the people caring for their loved ones with this hideous disease.

My mother, Virginia Rogers, suffered from Alzheimer’s for five long years before her death in 2013. I took my mother to every doctor’s appointment, every emergency room visit, every hospital stay and made the arrangements for each of her assisted living facilities, with the assistance of my brother Steve. I say this to emphasize that in all of that, not once did anyone tell us there was help! When I found out there was such a thing as Alzheimer’s Arkansas, I was elated. I couldn’t believe it — right here in my backyard! At that point, there was nothing I could do that would help my mother, but there is plenty I can do to see to it that no one else suffers the kind of desperation we did, of not having someone to talk to, to lean on and to receive useful information from at any time.

I am now involved with three non-profits whose sole mission is to help those in need: Baptist Health Foundation, Arkansas Hospice Foundation and Alzheimer’s Arkansas. Each of these holds my heart for a different reason. I believe in what they do to help their fellow man; I believe in their missions.

What does Alzheimer’s Arkansas do to support people living with Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s Arkansas’ sole vision and mission is to meet the needs of the caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia so they have the tools to better take care of themselves and their families. We provide education through our educational workshops, financial assistance for respite care, safety home improvements and most importantly, we give them hope. The team there, as well as our volunteers, are available 24/7 for our caregivers throughout the state, not just in Little Rock. We also train and provide education for our 76 Alzheimer’s Support Groups throughout the state.

Often the first step in getting help is to join a support group of fellow caregivers. Incredible relationships develop out of the support groups, and they are a lifeline for so many.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Alzheimer’s and dementia?

The biggest misconception about Alzheimer’s and dementia is that they are a natural process of growing older. This is not true. We’ve had people as young as 27 diagnosed. There is not enough evidence yet to suggest that Alzheimer’s is either genetic or environmentally induced. However, there are minor breakthroughs over the past several years that we hope will give us more concrete answers going forward. There are many myths out there about what causes Alzheimer’s. Don’t believe them! Do the research or call Alzheimer’s Arkansas for more information.

What are ways in which people can get involved?

We have a fantastic volunteer auxiliary called “Advocates for Care.” There are several opportunities one can join, and because everyone has different schedules and demands, there is a volunteer opportunity for everyone. Of course, we couldn’t provide the free programs and services that we do without the support of our friends and donors who support the organization.

You can access all our programs and services online at Alzark.org, call our toll-free number at (800) 689–6090, or call the office at (501) 224–0021 to make gifts in honor of loved ones and sponsor events such as the Champion’s Gala! To obtain a listing of all senior services, take a look at the Department of Human Services’ Aging and Adult Division as well as your local area Agency on Aging.

The Champion’s Gala will be held on March 23 at 6pm at the Little Rock Marriott. Tickets are available at Alzark.org.