It seemed to happen all of a sudden and out of the blue. Wilma James walked into her daughter’s home and said, “I don’t remember being here.” 

Lolita Tramel was stunned; she said her mother looked lost. Her mom had lived with her for a year, helping with the kids. This was the first sign of trouble and given Lolita’s medical background as a dual board-certified family and psychiatric nurse practitioner, she knew the prognosis would be concerning.

Wilma was first diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, but it wasn’t until they moved to Arizona in 2018 that Tramel’s worst fears were realized. Doctors diagnosed her mom with Alzheimer’s disease. 

“It was really hard for me to accept,” Tramel remembers. “I was devastated. This disease was going to take my best friend from me. I just cried.”

Thus began the 5-year journey of caring for mom. 

“I remember looking at her and saying, “‘We're in this together, I'm never going to leave your side; we're going to fight this together.”

But the news was life-altering in a way Tramel wasn’t emotionally prepared for. As the insidious disease progressed, it presented unexpected challenges, and days became fraught with ups and downs. 

“In the beginning I spent a lot of time arguing with her, trying to get her to remember,” Tramel says. “We want them to be that person we knew; it was extremely difficult.”

Tramel describes the disease as morphing her mother into someone else entirely, explaining that dementia takes the patient from the family twice—first, as they lose their memory, and then again when they pass away. 

“I was at a really low point in my life, and I remember thinking, I needed to make a change, I wanted to be better. I started researching day and night, reading tons of books, and taking training classes to create a culture in my home that was accepting of my mother. I was determined to celebrate her each day to have the best days we could,” she says. 

This new mindset was powerful. Shifting all of her care and attention onto her mother’s current state was both liberating and challenging, allowing Tramel to provide the compassionate care her mother needed, until she passed away last year. 

“I learned to meet her in her reality, wherever that was and whatever that meant. For instance, my mom had come to me one day and said that her caregiver had put food in her purse. Well, I knew that wasn’t true, but it was her reality, so I went with it. We gossiped about it, and just laughed.” 

It was a completely different approach for Tramel—simple yet profound. Now, feeling empowered, Tramel decided she could help others experiencing the same thing. 

“You never truly understand what someone else is going through until you have lived that life. That’s why I started Hearts for Dementia Home Care four years ago—to give people peace of mind through one of the most difficult times of their lives.” 

“You never truly understand what someone else is going through until you have lived that life. That’s why I started Hearts for Dementia Home Care four years ago—to give people peace of mind through one of the most difficult times of their lives.” 

The Scottsdale-based Hearts for Dementia offers non-medical home care for families struggling with ailments ranging from mobility to dementia. Round-the-clock services include assistance with personal hygiene, companionship, safety and wellness checks, and mobility support.

Its approach also addresses the mental, physical, emotional, and social well-being of its families, to provide clients with dignity and independence. 

“We want to keep people in the comfort of their own homes for as long as possible,” says Tramel, “so, they may age gracefully, surrounded by things that are familiar to them.” 

Hired caregivers also undergo training to understand Montessori-Based Dementia Programming, to best utilize purposeful activities to help clients engage their sensory, motor, cognitive, and social functions. 

The passion for this field, Tramel says, has no bounds. She’s currently conducting research on dementia behaviors, she’s less than a year away from receiving a doctorate from Yale University, and she plans to bring a new Medicare program to Hearts for Dementia that offers no-cost support to caregivers and dementia patients.

“I want people to know that they are not alone and that we’re in this together,” she says. “I hope that through my work, my mother's legacy lives on, and that Hearts for Dementia embodies my mom’s love, compassion and generosity. That’s the quality of care we strive to deliver each day.”

Alzheimer's

Courtesy Ben Ferguson, Zenith Visuals