Legendary Coach Jim Valvano said: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,” but those words can be applied to so much more. Especially today, and in particular for the millions of dementia sufferers and their care givers, or partners as I prefer to call them.

Jim Valvano was a Hall of Fame basketball Coach. Against all the odds his North Carolina State team famously won the 1983 NCAA tournament. He modeled himself on football legend Vince Lombardi and  became known for his motivational coaching and speeches. In 1983 he also coined the phrase “survive and advance”.

In his most memorable speech and one that to this day still dominates ESPN Sports  in support of the  Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, he said “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities, but it cannot touch my mind. It cannot touch my heart. And it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.” He died eight weeks later with a legacy that will never dim.

Now I realize that it is not possible to fully transfer Valvano’s message to Alzheimer’s disease or any other dementias because of the question of the “mind”. But I have met many participants at Memory Matters, namely  our Club Members, who are the living embodiment of Jim’s motivational message. With too many of the insidious dementias we recognize they are progressive, and a once healthy brain (or “mind”) will inevitably deteriorate.  However we should not blindly accept this reality without a fight!

For example one of my favorite (I’m not supposed to have favorites!) Club Members who is a regular in Thursday’s Connections program  has told me quite clearly that he knows he has a progressive disease. He has also told me he is not giving up on life. He is doing everything possible to live in the moment and to enjoy life. Alzheimer’s has not touched his heart, it has not yet irrevocably damaged his mind and it will never ever touch his soul. There are many other Club Members I meet during the weekday programs, not just on a Thursday Connections program, who are doing their level best to keep their mind active and to sharpen their existing life skills.

This last Tuesday we had a splendid group of 25 people who laughed, sang, heckled (at least Volunteer Bob and I!) and generally contributed to the program. For example in the Poker Ante question time, the “Chicktionary” word game and “Tasmanian Devil” game where complete words have to be constructed around just two of three letters. Believe me its not always easy for the volunteers either but this awesome group of Club Members ALWAYS contrived to construct at least twenty words and in one case thirty five. So YES, their minds were active, and to quote Jimmy V again “surviving and advancing”!

Jim’s message is true for both the dementia sufferers and their care givers (care partners). We see many of these fine people joining the mens and women counseling and support groups. These continuing programs are at least as important as the day care programs. It is a sad fact that too many care partners suffer terribly from the stress of caring for their loved one at home. Memory Matters support groups are designed to give caregivers resources, information, tips and tools. They are also a safe, confidential venue to share concerns. And an added bonus is the opportunity to network with other caregivers. Sharing ideas about what works, what doesn’t, what resources were helpful, and the common experience of caring for someone with dementia are all beneficial.

Caregiving stress can take up to 10 years off  person’s life and 40% to 70% of family care givers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Statistics show that 55% to 72% say they skip Doctor appointments for themselves. This is why I wrote my last post about my personal experiences with my Mother in England and this, the sequel. Both are intended to highlight the reasoning behind Memory Matters creative initiatives to offer strong support for the care givers.

My wife and I are currently enrolled in our “Brain Boosters” program which is held three times a year. While it was traditionally thought that our brains were fully formed by adulthood, the truth is that our life experiences continually shape and mold our brains in fascinating ways. With every new problem you solve and every new insight you learn, you can strengthen a range of functions involved in your brain’s fitness.

  • What is normal aging and when do you need to see a doctor?
  • Learn ways to sharpen your focus.
  • Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Stop the worry-become a flexible thinker.
  • Improve your Nutrition and diet.
  • Learn the do’s and don’ts of protecting your brain.

One of our Memory Matters care givers is attending this Brain Boosters program as is one of our Connections Club Members. Clearly these people are never ever going to give up!


Please share this if you think it will help someone. Call 1 843 842 6688 should you want to take advantage of an exploratory confidential conversation.

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