YARMOUTH, Maine — The hug was the last thing to go.
“Even when [my mom] didn’t recognize my face, she’d recognize my hugs,” Theresa Saxton said. “She taught me how to hug, and I give these really big hugs. She would recognize me through those hugs and she would just cry, because it brought back something familiar.”
Theresa first realized her mother likely had Alzheimer’s disease the day after Thanksgiving 13 years ago, when Linda Sue Saxton was just 54 years old. Theresa Saxton had made roasted garlic as a side dish for the family feast, and her mother raved about how good it was.
The next morning, her mother denied ever having tried the roasted garlic, and became angry when Theresa pushed the issue.
“It was one of those moments when you know something’s not right — it’s not your mom,” Theresa recalled. “She got really, really angry. I realized afterward that she was probably scared because she couldn’t remember.”
What has transpired since then, she said, has been a painful process of lost memories and disappearing relationships that many Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families know all too well.
“It’s a wild journey going from limited conversation where she can say, ‘I love you and miss you,’ and recognize me by my hugs, to a place where she [can only mumble] and lacks mobility,” Theresa said.
Linda Sue Saxton now is in the late stages of the disease and lives with Theresa’s father and sister in upstate New York, just outside of Albany. Theresa visits about once a month.
“The hardest part is that she doesn’t look like my mom anymore,” said Theresa, who for the last nine years has lived in Yarmouth. “It’s a very slow loss.”
But for many of her earliest years with the disease, her mother “owned it” and kept a positive attitude, Theresa said.
“She immediately kind of accepted it,” she recalled. “She would introduce herself and say, ‘Hi, my name is Linda and I have Alzheimer’s, so I apologize if I forget some things.’”
The experience has motivated Theresa — who owns Fitness Success Personal Training at 94 Main St. — to develop a new, upbeat fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research and care.
Theresa, a personal trainer, is letting her clients — and anyone else who wants to get some light-hearted revenge on personal trainers — make her sweat. Donors can buy sets of exercises, or minutes on a workout machine of one kind or another, which Theresa will have to perform at her fitness studio starting the morning of Dec. 1.
Donors can come by and sip mimosas or nibble on bagels and revel in seeing Theresa, who admitted to sometimes turning up the resistance on her clients’ exercise bikes to push them just a little harder, working her tail off.
Theresa said she set a goal of $1,550, with sets of 12 reps going for between $15 and $25, and she’s already surpassed it. The money will benefit the Maine chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I think I was probably aiming a little low, because of all the trouble I’ve had over the years doing fundraisers,” she said.
Or because she underestimated the what-goes-around-comes-around factor.
“Everybody’s definitely having fun with it,” said Theresa, who wants to make her “Train the Trainer” benefit an annual event. “[I might be working out] a really long time.”