Town ‘celebrates hope’ to combat Alzheimer’s

John Ferris Robben The battle against Alzheimer’s Disease is a deeply personal one for actress Kimberly Williams Paisley and her father Gurney and they were on hand to lend their support in Greenwich last week for The Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Celebrating Hope 2014 event.

John Ferris Robben
The battle against Alzheimer’s Disease is a deeply personal one for actress Kimberly Williams Paisley and her father Gurney and they were on hand to lend their support in Greenwich last week for The Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Celebrating Hope 2014 event.

The Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association welcomed actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley to Greenwich for Celebrating Hope 2014, a benefit dedicated to Alzheimer’s victims, their families and caregivers, on June 13.

Held at Richards on Greenwich Avenue, the event raised $150,000 in support of Alzheimer’s treatment and research while entertaining more than 370 guests. Event attendees wore purple in support of Alzheimer’s, enjoying music, cocktails and a silent auction. Local sponsors offered generous prizes for silent and live auctions, ranging from high-end wine baskets and ballroom dancing lessons to a year’s worth of shoes from Richards.

Lynn Hagerbrant and Cristin Marandino served as event chairmen, while Kenda Farn Finz and Lisa Koorbusch chaired the silent auction. Both Ms. Hagerbrant and Ms. Marandino have seen the impact of Alzheimer’s first-hand, having watched their mothers combat the disease. The pair launched Celebrating Hope through the organization last year in honor of their mothers, raising $100,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association at the inaugural event.

Ms. Paisley-Williams, who is married to country music superstar Brad Paisley, and her father Gurney Williams were the evening’s special guests, with the Father of the Bride actress going so far as to highlight her hair purple for the event. In a Redbook Magazine piece published in February of this year, Ms. Williams-Paisley and her father revealed that her mother, Linda Williams, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a rare form of dementia, in 2005.

The actress has become an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness after witnessing the effect the disease had not only on her mother, but on her father and the rest of their family as well. Linda’s condition was kept secret for the better part of a decade, but the Williams family decided to go public with their story in order to transform the tragic situation into a force for positive action. In addition to advocating through print, and on television shows such as Good Morning America, Ms. Williams-Paisley has fostered personal connections with others battling dementia in their family.

“It’s really healing for me to hear from other people who have been touched by this disease and to hear their stories,” Ms. Williams-Paisley told the Post.

Her father shared the sentiment, describing the strength that comes from sharing his experience with others in person. Mr. Williams is a career journalist who has focused on science medicine and health, but initially found himself unable to engage emotionally when writing about his wife’s condition. As Linda’s primary caretaker, Mr. Williams found himself under an inordinate amount of strain as he dealt with his wife’s decline and her growing needs.

He explained the tendency for caregivers to establish mental barriers between themselves and the victim, which can lead to the neglect of their own health. In October 2009 Mr. Williams made an emergency call believing himself to be suffering from a heart attack, but even as he waited for the hospital to arrive he found himself more concerned about his wife being able to get dressed than his own life. It would later be determined that he was suffering from a panic attack, but the incident was one of several factors that made the family reconsider how they were caring for Linda and themselves.

“We saw that we were not only in danger of losing my mom, but we were in even more danger of losing my father because he was just withdrawing and becoming a shell of who he used to be. He wasn’t even sharing with us the full extent to which he was taking care of my mom. It was a real wakeup call,” Ms. Williams-Paisley said.

“I was doing much more than I should’ve been doing, and losing myself in the process,” her father added.

Admitting that he had worn himself too thin trying to provide for his wife, Mr. Williams urged caretakers to call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24 hour helpline at 800-272-3900 for information and support. The phone number redirects callers to their local AA chapter, where they can learn more about available help in the area. Statistics published by the AA report 72,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in Connecticut and an additional 176,000 caregivers as well.

Both Mr. Williams and Ms. Williams-Paisley described the loss they felt as the mother and wife they knew slowly faded away, but encouraged those with family members suffering from dementia to forge new connections with their loved ones.

“I had to let go of the mother I grew up with, because she’s not there. It was painful to look at the person she’s become,” Ms. Williams-Paisley said. “But if I say good-bye to that person who doesn’t exist anymore, and say hello to someone with whom I still have a bond, it’s much easier to love her and be with her.”

Ms. Williams-Paisley has embraced the shifts in personality that her mother’s condition has created, describing her as “delightful.” She explained that her mother’s decreased self-awareness had led her to be more joyful and less inhibited when she was less concerned with the perception of others. The actress continues to take her two children, Huck and Jasper, to visit their grandmother and build relationships of their own.

Linda Williams currently resides at The Kensington White Plains, N.Y. assisted living facility, where Mr. Williams offers a family member’s perspective for staff training. Ms. Williams-Paisley recently appeared in a recurring role with the CBS comedy Two and A Half Men, and continues to support the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, St. Jude’s Hospital and  the Entertainment Council for Feeding America.

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, and the Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association will be hosting more events through the end of the month, including a car show at Arden Courts and a clinical research symposium at Greenwich Hospital. A full list of upcoming fund-raisers, programs and meetings may be found at along with additional information.

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