Lesley Jenkins, regional director of Desert Southwest Chapter-Alzheimer’s Association, is facing challenges in her new job; her territory is larger than some states. That became even more complicated when COVID-19 literally shut down face-to-face meetings throughout the five counties for which she is responsible.
Her job involves creating more awareness and support groups for what has become an insidious illness attacking Arizonans — dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause — 60% to 80% — of all dementia cases. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona.
She said the catchphrase often used by the organization is most appropriate: “Alzheimer’s Association — the brains behind saving yours.”
Jenkins cited data from the “2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” statistical report that Arizona leads the nation by having the highest growth rate of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, more than 150,000 people 65 and older have been diagnosed, and that figure is predicted to increase by as much as 33% by 2025. Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s victims are women.
Jenkins replaced Meg Fenzi, previous regional director who retired in February 2019. Jenkins said the past 10 months have been especially difficult for her and her staff of two. They all work from the office at 3111 Clearwater Drive in Prescott.
The region they cover includes more than 66,000 square miles.
“We work with people in Apache, Coconino, Mohave, Navajo and Yavapai counties. It’s a growing population of more than 773,000. Many are older people who are susceptible to dementia,” Jenkins said. “Even though lately we haven’t been able to travel to all these communities, we try to recruit volunteers in various areas to help.”
“Additionally, we’ve a variety of resources and programs that help people cope with all aspects of the disease and its progression,” she said.
Jenkins said her most immediate challenge is to organize the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s scheduled for Greater Prescott Oct. 3 and for the Verde Valley on Oct. 24.
She said it is a part of a large event to raise funds to create awareness and support for Alzheimer’s care and research.
“Because of the pandemic, we’re pivoting to do it virtually this year. Even so, we are calling on persons of all ages and abilities from throughout Northern Arizona to step forward and join in this major effort. We are committed to focus not only upon care and support for families in this region but also to help fund research to find a cure.”
Among resources is a 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900, where a trained consultant is available to talk confidentially and provide information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
- Support groups — Free forums conducted by trained individuals are offered throughout the five counties. Most are for dementia care partners. Some are for individuals diagnosed with early stage dementia.
- Ongoing education — Trained volunteers introduce audiences to all aspects of the disease and provide resources to help caregivers find assistance.
- Early-stage programing — Programs include specific activities focusing on engaging, encouraging and empowering diagnosed persons with using their strength and capacities as long as possible.
- Safety services — Through collaboration with the greater Alzheimer’s Association and the MedicAlert Foundation, membership plans provide 24/7 Wandering Support, an emergency response service for people with dementia who tend to wander or have other medical issues.
Jenkins Has Solid Professional Credentials
From Nashville, Tennessee, Jenkins has a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism, speech communication, and theater from Tennessee State University. In her early career, she was assistant director for media relations for Ohio State University. She also had experience in public relations for the City of Columbus. She met her future husband, Rodney Jenkins, when they were working in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. She was the associate director and member coordinator for the YMCA there.
Her husband has been a college and university administrator most of his professional career. In 2017, Rodney accepted a position as vice president of community relations at Yavapai College in Prescott. They have two sons, Jayden, 16, and Jared, 13.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
For more local information, contact email@example.com.