Today we’d like to introduce you to Gincy Heins.
Hi Gincy, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
In December 2009, when he was 55-years-old, my husband was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which we were told could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. At that time, I had never heard of anything like that happening to someone so young. I was sure there had to be a mistake. There was no mistake. I had just turned 49, and our son was in junior high school.
I set out to learn everything I could that might help my husband. I took classes through Alzheimer’s Orange County and did a lot of internet research. Even today, the advice is still that it’s important to eat a healthy diet, exercise, socialize, and keep learning. However, Alzheimer’s is still one of the top ten causes of death and cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
With the knowledge I acquired, I volunteered at the Cypress Senior Center, teaching a class we called Keep Your Brain Buff. I started that class in November 2010. I still teach that class today at the Cypress Senior Center, currently on Zoom, but now through the North Orange Continuing Education program. I have also given talks on being a caregiver and keeping your brain healthy at the Senior Center.
Through the internet, I became friends with other caregivers. Five of us bonded and together, we have now written four books in the “365 Caregiving Tips” series. These books are “Practical Tips from Everyday Caregivers,” “Travel and Respite,” “Hospitals, Care Facilities and Hospice,” and “Caring for Yourself.”
Over time I have noticed that once someone finds out about a person’s diagnosis with any type of dementia, that is all they see. They ignore everything else about that person. I think it’s important to acknowledge these wonderful individuals, so I came up with the book “Before the Diagnosis: Stories of Life and Love Before Dementia.” Volume 1 was published in 2018 and is an anthology of stories by 36 authors, each about a relative they have known and loved before that person was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Over 90% of the revenue from the sales of the book are donated to four non-profit organizations that help caregivers of people with dementia. Right now, I am working on a second volume of the book and am accepting submissions. I am hoping to publish the second volume in late 2021.
I am active with Alzheimer’s Orange County. In addition to having one of the top teams in their annual fundraising walk, I have spoken on panel discussions at conferences and helped plan their first caregiver conference which was held virtually in 2021.
My husband has remained relatively stable all this time. Our son who was in junior high at the time of his dad’s diagnosis is graduating from law school in May 2021.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Oh, my! There is nothing smooth about becoming a caregiver! It comes at you from out of nowhere! It is not something I expected to be doing for my spouse at a fairly young age when I was still raising a child.
As with any illness, there is a stigma to Alzheimer’s. People joke about it, and people fear getting it more than they fear getting cancer. People don’t know what to say when they hear someone close to their age has received such a diagnosis, and some people act like it’s contagious.
I have become a more patient person. I have tried to share my knowledge and help other caregivers as much as possible. It is not unusual for someone to call me, email me, or knock on my door and tell me that they know someone who has a loved one that was recently diagnosed with some type of dementia and could I talk with them and help them. I am always glad to do it. Caregiving is lonely and scary. It takes a lot to reach out and ask for help.
Alzheimer’s Orange County has been a lifeline for me. Up until February 2020, I attended a monthly support group they ran. It was so helpful to meet other caregivers and encourage each other.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
When people ask me what I do, I answer with a list of things. I’m a wife, mother, caregiver to my husband, volunteer, advocate, activist, city commissioner, teacher and author. While it appears that these things do not fit together, the common thread throughout all of them is that they involve helping others.
While currently on hold, I look forward to returning to volunteering at the spcaLA in Long Beach and the Cypress branch of the Orange County Public Library. With that volunteering time open in 2020, I began volunteering virtually for AlzAuthors, which supports and promotes blogs and books that deal with all dementias.
I teach a class at the Cypress Senior Center, Games for Brains, through the North Orange Continuing Education program. It is now offered weekly on Zoom. Because I wanted to encourage the people in my class in 2020 and give them something to look forward to, I send them at least five emails a week with trivia questions and answers. I am not afraid to look silly or make a fool of myself while trying to encourage my students and make them laugh. Quite a change from the shy person I was through high school!
You’re never really sure how others view you, but if I had to guess, I would say that people view me as a positive person who works hard at helping others. I am proud of the many ways I do this, including making and posting to social media 284 short videos to help others get through that trying year, 2020. Despite the challenges of being a caregiver for my husband, I still have a very positive attitude!
Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Despite the shock and challenges of becoming my husband’s caregiver at 49, I am a much better and different person than I was before this journey started. I am kinder, more patient, and more understanding. I have done things I never would have done before such as speak on panel discussions, teach, write books, make videos, and share our story as often as people will listen.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: 365caregivingtips.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gincyheins/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gj.heins/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/GincyHeins
Photo credit: Steve Heins