Sylvia Waller relied on her hero — her father James — for advice. And then their phone calls started becoming different. Over time, her father had difficulty answering questions, and Sylvia became concerned. Their family had a history of Alzheimer’s disease: Sylvia's dad’s sister and her maternal grandfather had both been affected. A CAT scan confirmed Sylvia’s fears. James too had the disease.
In April 2017, at age 76, James passed away, three years after Sylvia started recognizing the symptoms.
When she was handpicked as a leader in her community to participate in the 2019 United States of America’s Miss Colorado Pageant, competing as Mrs. Aurora, Sylvia knew she would select the Alzheimer’s Association as her chosen charity, in memory of her father.
The mission of the pageant is ‘to build a community of passion-driven women who invoke change and are making an impact in their communities.’ And Sylvia, who was crowned winner in January of this year, has been doing just that.
“The weeks and months after losing my dad were tough. Without having to take care of him anymore, I knew I needed to be involved in something important. I knew that getting involved with the Alzheimer’s Association would be a great way to give back.
"I also wanted to learn more about the disease. I am a curious person by nature, and I was worried given my family history. I wanted to know what I could do to stay healthy and possibly prevent slipping into dementia. I wanted to learn more about how to take care of my mind and body.”
Sylvia has recently made large changes to her health and exercise regimen. “I eat more fruits and vegetables, I’ve cut out fast food and I watch my sugar and carb intake. Since I changed my habits, my blood pressure has lowered and my glucose has decreased and is at a healthy level. I’m not perfect! Sometimes I want a piece of pizza or a slice of red velvet cake, but I do everything in moderation.”
Raising Alzheimer’s awareness has become near and dear to her heart, and the statistics have opened her eyes. “When I met with staff from the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter, I found out that African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. And I also know that African Americans aren’t as physically active as we can be. A lot of black women I’ve met like to look good, but they don’t particularly like to work out. I want to encourage other people like me to realize how good even 30 minutes of walking a day can be for you.”
Watching her dad fall out of his usual routine helped make Sylvia realize the importance of exercise in her own life. “My dad used to golf all the time. But once he stopped moving around as much, he started losing his balance, and everything tightened up. It was a chore just to get him to walk a few feet to the mailbox.”
Today, Sylvia is focusing on continuing to change her lifestyle. “I have overcome a lot of things in my life. Sure, I’d be lying if I said I woke up every day excited to work out, or that it was super easy: it’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. But I feel so good after I do it, and it has long-term benefits.”
One tip of Sylvia's is to do a simple stretch first thing in the morning. “That’s one easy thing that helps me start my day off right! I’ve decided that 2019 is the year I am going to take action: to take care of myself; to empower others; to raise awareness; and to help facilitate early detection, diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important for me to use my voice and my platform to create awareness around the tools we have available through the Association, in honor of my father and everyone who has been lost to the disease.”
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