Randi Firestone remembers her mother Shirley while raising money to end Alzheimer’s
By Gary Walker
For some, the epiphany of a life’s mission comes during moments of inspiration. For Randi Firestone, hers was sparked by a family tragedy.
Firestone, a Playa Vista resident, was visiting her mother Shirley six years ago when she began observing small but significant changes in her mother and how she was living.
“I noticed a stack of unpaid bills on a table, which I thought was odd because my mother would be livid if she realized that she was behind on her bills,” said Firestone, a former retail executive manager. “And her refrigerator was empty, and she always had food in the house.”
Little did she know that her mother Shirley, at the time a high-profile food writer with the California Restaurant Association and Entertainment Today, was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that would eventually
send Randi Firestone on the crusade
of her life.
Shirley Firestone was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and passed away from complications of the neurodegenerative affliction in 2015.
“When I moved in with my mother to take care of her, I had to get to know her all over again. What people don’t understand about Alzheimer’s is that it changes the person completely. I remember being in the room of my childhood home after a particularly difficult day with my mother and thinking, ‘I’m living with a stranger,’” Firestone recalled.
She was at her wits end until she heard about the Alzheimer’s Association’s California Southland Chapter in Beverly Hills.
“They were my lifeline. I didn’t know what else I could do. I no longer knew my mother,” Firestone said. “With Alzheimer’s, it erases who you were like an Etch-A-Sketch.”
Firestone immersed herself in literature about Alzheimer’s disease and has raised over $100,000 for the association. She also began taking part in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in California and the third leading cause of death in the nation, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s California Southland Chapter.
A week ago, Tongva Park in Santa Monica was blanketed by over 500 purple-clad walk supporters, one of 12 such walks the association sponsors.
An Alzheimer’s Associations California Southland Chapter spokeswoman said the walk raised nearly $170,000.
While the cause can make for a somber discussion, the mood at the park was festive with music, laughter and smiles all around.
Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, who wrote a book chronicling her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, joined the Santa Monica walk.
“I don’t want to see another generation lost to Alzheimer’s,” Harden told a cheering crowd waving brightly colored flowers.
Three generations of the Cox family turned out to walk for the family patriarch, Albert, who is wheelchair bound and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
“We’re walking because Alzheimer’s affects the whole family,” said daughter Celeste Cox. “My dad used to run marathons so we want to be here to support him.”
Dr. Oana Dumitrascu, an assistant professor of neurology at Cedars Sinai says there are current clinical trials that suggest in cases of early detection of the presence of Alzheimer’s disease some patients may be able to maintain a certain level of independence and improved quality of life.
Dumitrascu says there is a causal relationship between poor vascular health— diabetes, high pretension and high cholesterol— and Alzheimer’s.
“Studies have shown that a healthy diet along with any kind of stimulating cognitive engagement or activity can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease with early diagnosis,” said Dumitrascu, who is “cautiously optimistic” about the clinical trials and is researching the connection between vascular aliments and Alzheimer’s.
Last month, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn launched a countywide initiative called “L.A. Found” to assist dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers when patients or family wanders away from home. It features a system of trackable bracelets that can be located using receivers carried in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopters and designated patrol units and return patients safely.
“If you have cared for someone with dementia or autism, you know the fear of what might happen if you turn your back for just one minute,” said Hahn, who represents Marina del Rey and other Westside communities. “L.A. Found will not only save lives, it will finally give caregivers some peace of mind.”
Firestone will be holding her final fundraiser of the year —a jewelry and gift sale —on Nov.4 at Runaway in Playa Vista.
For more information about Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org/socal