December 6, 2013

Memory Matters named PGA Tour charity of the year

Memory Matters, offering support to those affected by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, was named the PGA Tour's 2013 Charity of the Year and given a $30,000 grant.

Grace Lenk's husband, Jim, was no longer the person she once knew.

He suffered an irreparable brain injury in March 2012 after falling in a restaurant. He became withdrawn, disoriented and agitated. He could no longer read or remember his phone number.

Lenk, 81, became his full-time caregiver, a responsibility for which she was unprepared. It brought her stress, physical strain and financial hardship.

Then, Lenk's doctor told her about Memory Matters, which offers support services to those affected by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, including patients' families. The organization provides free or reduced-rate day care that affords caregivers relief.

That service, provided to Lenk and many others, resulted in the Hilton Head Island nonprofit organization's recognition Friday as the PGA Tour's 2013 Charity of the Year. The award comes with a $30,000 grant from the tour to help Memory Matters provide day care to families who cannot afford the fee -- $70 for a full day and $40 for a half day.

The RBC Heritage Presented By Boeing and the Heritage Classic Foundation, which runs the island's annual PGA Tour event, applied for the honor on Memory Matters' behalf.

"They fill an important role on Hilton Head Island by striving to be a center of excellence for persons with Alzheimer's and dementia," tournament director Steve Wilmot said in a news release.

Memory Matters executive director Edwina Hoyle said Friday she felt like a balloon that needed to be tethered.

"It's amazing," she said. "For a local nonprofit not affiliated with a national organization -- to me it was jaw-dropping. And $30,000 will go a long way to meet a need in the community that has grown exponentially."

The charity gave out about $40,000 in day care scholarship aid last year. At any given time, Memory Matters provides services to about 65 to 90 families, and 688 people attended its support groups last year. It averages 25 to 30 participants in its 10-week "Brain Boosters" program for people with early memory loss, Hoyle said.

"The RBC Heritage and Heritage Classic Foundation's confidence in and support of our work is extremely gratifying," she said. "And we are incredibly grateful to the PGA Tour for helping us raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia nationwide."

As for Grace Lenk, who lives in Sun City Hilton Head, Memory Matters has changed her husband for the better.

"Today, Jim is a much different person," said Lenk. "My husband is flourishing here. He's happy. He has friends. He's outgoing. He has a great sense of humor and interacts with people better. He's more aware of what's going on. He's just a much happier person."

And the help Memory Matters has given her husband has been a lifesaver for her, too.

"For me, my caregiving is 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Lenk said. "Because of Memory Matters ... I can have some free time and know Jim is happy and know he's being taken care of.

"I'm a much better caregiver as a result. I'm not as grumpy and am much more patient. And having that support system is invaluable. It's given my husband a whole new life and saved me from deep, dark depression."

Looming health crisis

Nearly half of all seniors who need some form of long-term care -- from help at home to full-time care in a facility -- have dementia, according to the 2013 World Alzheimer Report.

Today, an estimated 35 million people worldwide, including 2.4 million to 5 million Americans, have Alzheimer's disease, according to the September report and the National Institute on Aging.

And numbers are expected to more than double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050 to 115 million as the global population ages -- placing enormous strain on families and national economies, according to Alzheimer's Disease International.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates those 65 and older will double to about 72 million in the next 20 years.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health in September announced $45 million in new Alzheimer's research, with most of the money focused on finding ways to prevent or delay the degenerative disease.

Overall, the U.S. has invested about $400 million a year in Alzheimer's research, according to The Associated Press.

Globally, the disease's financial toll is estimated to be about $604 billion -- $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone -- or 1 percent of aggregated worldwide gross domestic production.

Video: Remembering a Better Life - Memory Matters (12:15)

Memory Matters of Hilton Head, South Carolina runs adult daycare programs for those with Alzheimer's disease and provides assistance and resources to family members and caregivers. The non-profit was profiled for Season 18 of Visionaries. Source: The Visionaries

Follow reporter Tom Barton at

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