Maple Ridge Memory Care facility will be hosting an event this Friday to raise awareness for those impacted by Alzheimer’s.

The Longest Day event is an effort to “take the darkness” out of the cognitive disease that impacts millions of people every year, said Jane Samuelsen, director of community relations at Maple Ridge. It’s held on June 21, the summer solstice and longest day of the year, and coincides with Alzheimer’s awareness month.

“It just makes you really stop and think about what this experience is like for family members for the loved ones who are going through this part of their lives,” Samuelsen said.

Prior to the event, The Reporter spoke with four people whose family members live at Maple Ridge (formerly Spring Village), which specializes in memory care, a method for aiding those with dementia. The center contains 56 suites and has space for up to 60 residents.

While all arrive to the facility with different stories, each family member interviewed for this story praised Maple Ridge’s focus on caring for patients, noting the impact it has had on both their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Take Joanna, who’s husband suffers from Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, which, behind Alezheimer’s, is the second-most common type of progressive dementia. Joanna asked not to be identified by her last name but said her husband didn’t feel safe at home despite her best efforts – putting locks on all the doors and extra lights outside. But nothing seemed to help, she said, recalling nights watching her husband scream in fear of being attacked.

That all changed when he arrived to the memory care facility, she said.

“He’s felt safe here,” Joanna said. “Safe within his own mind and safe because of the facility.” She added that he also seems happier than he was at home, which she called a “heartbreaking” realization, since she had wanted to help him age at home.

“But this place is like family,” she said. “I feel like I’m part of a larger family. So that’s working really well for both of us.”

The specialized care at Maple Ridge has also helped David Robideau’s brother, who moved in to Maple Ridge following a medical event in January that triggered dementia-like symptoms, including severe memory loss, hallucinations and paranoia. The latter two symptoms have subsided over the last several months, said Robideau, who, like the other family members, didn’t downplay the difficulty posed by diseases like Alzheimer’s.

But he said keeping a positive perspective can help. “It’s a little bit like: Do you make lemonade out of lemons? This isn’t a perfect situation for anybody, but the combination of the caretakers showing great compassion and family members who can adapt their lifestyle and focus on what’s going on can make a big difference for people,” he said.

Robideau also said these illnesses, unlike many, require a marathon approach. “It’s not like an illness where you’re going to say, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to do this,’ and it’s going to get better,” Robideau said. “You don’t know what’s the next chapter.”

Tom Pratt understands that well. Both his parents are at Maple Ridge, moving in seven weeks ago. His dad suffers from dementia; his mom, Alzheimer’s. Together, “two kind of equaled one,” he said, which allowed them to live alone for a while. But father fell and hit his head several years ago, and another recent fall worsened matters. Pratt and his brother took turns spending the night at his mother’s house, explaining dozens of times throughout the night why their father was in the hospital.

“It’s sad to see your parents in this situation but you really have no choice,” Pratt said. “We all have lives. For me to be seven days a week checking on them on a regular basis was not realistic … this was the best choice.”

The same was true for John Barnett, whose parents-in-law moved in to Maple Ridge following a stay at an assisted living facility. The elderly couple was able to live next door to each other at the memory care home until his mother-in-law’s death in February. Now, his father-in-law, in his 90s, “seems to be maintaining,” Barnett said. But his Alzheimer’s is progressing, and “it’s hard to watch.”

“It’s life changing for a family,” Barnett said.

Friday’s event is expected to draw thousands of participants across the world, according to the Vermont chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, which hopes the Longest Day can spread awareness and fundraise to support care and research for the disease that impacts more than 13,000 Vermonters and more than 30,000 family and friends who provide care on a daily basis.

The Maple Ridge Longest Day event is open to the public and runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 21. For more information about the Longest Day, visit bit.ly/2Uqp73Y.