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Ardent Alzheimer’s awareness advocate Jill Watson has personal passion

By , Columbian staff writer
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9 Photos
Jill Watson, left, who hosts a tennis tournament Alzheimer's fundraiser in the spring each year, joins Delena Palena as they take on opponents at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver.
Jill Watson, left, who hosts a tennis tournament Alzheimer's fundraiser in the spring each year, joins Delena Palena as they take on opponents at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It’s been more than a decade since Jill Watson’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and more than two years since her mother died at 79, but the emotions of loving someone with Alzheimer’s still resonate with Watson.

“It’s very personal to me,” she said. “The disease robs people of themselves.”

Watson can still recall the first time her mother didn’t remember her — a symptom of Alzheimer’s.

“That day broke my heart,” she said.

Watson, a 52-year-old Camas resident, can still recall being 3,000 miles away from her mother, who lived in Vermont, and how each time she visited her mother, her mother would be different.

“I would see more drastic changes than anybody because I wouldn’t see her all the time,” Watson said.

The disease had such an impact on Watson that she’s become an ardent advocate for raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research.

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For the fifth year, Watson will host a tennis tournament at Club Green Meadows in Vancouver as part of “The Longest Day,” a large Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser that is always held on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which falls on June 20 this year.

Watson has signed up 12 teams to compete in the tournament, and expects six to eight more. She said it has grown each year.

During The Longest Day fundraiser, people across the country can participate in an activity of their choosing and raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

About 6 million people nationwide live with Alzheimer’s, said Heidi Rowell, program director for Alzheimer’s Association Oregon & SW Washington Chapter.

In Washington, about 120,000 people 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to rise to 140,000 by 2025, Rowell said.

“The striking thing is that the numbers continue to increase,” Rowell said. “We’re continuing to see more and more people develop this disease. We all need to be conscious of providing support for family caregivers.”

So far this year, Watson’s team has raised more than $1,300 for The Longest Day, with a goal of $1,600. Watson has raised a little more than $1,100 herself.

Watson’s fundraising team honors her mother, Joan Olson. As Watson likes to say, Olson was her confidant in many ways. Watson was never afraid to talk to her mother about anything.

She remembers being on the verge of marriage at 21, and then deciding that she didn’t want to go through with the wedding. She was “scared to death” to tell her parents, but they understood, Watson said.

“I told her everything. I never lied to her,” Watson said. “It was so easy to talk to her about stuff.”

Watson said her personal experience with Alzheimer’s has propelled her into advocacy, because she’s passionate about the cause. Seeing how her work resonates with others has affirmed her.

Watson has inspired her two daughters. They participate in Alzheimer’s fundraising walks and help her set up for the tennis tournament. They also make donations.

“They’re very proud of me for what I do. I love being a mom,” Watson said. “I hope I’m the mom my mom was.”

Columbian staff writer

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