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Making Sense of Alzheimer’s is a creative space for people to understand the past, present and future of Alzheimer’s disease. It is an evolving forum, a gallery of ideas, a museum without walls.

Portraits of Caregivers

By Barbara Overholser

Raymond W. Holman, Jr. documents those sometimes forgotten figures in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Young and old, men and women – caregivers are often on the frontlines of the daily undertaking to ensure dignity for those suffering from dementia.

Inspired by his own father’s death in 2001 from the disease, Raymond has photographed more than 80 people who have dedicated themselves to caring for others.

Raymond first picked up a camera almost 40 years ago when he wanted to photograph the gifts around his Christmas tree. But it took another decade for him to seriously pursue photography as a career. He then moved from a job in banking to freelance photography for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

Since 2007 he has photographed caregivers across the Philadelphia area. In 2008 a series of his portraits were exhibited at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

“I know that (family caregivers) can get lost in their role,” Raymond says. “I always talk to people to make sure that they are not so absorbed that they forget about their own self. Caregivers are overwhelmed, and they can feel unsupported.”

Big Ray, as Holman’s father was known, first began showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease dementia in 1997.

“At first I didn’t pick up on the signs,” Raymond says.

Raymond described how his father got lost driving to his daughter’s house. How his telephone was shut off after forgetting to pay his bill. And how, one day, he let a stranger into his house, and was subsequently wrestled to the ground and robbed. “After that I knew something was very wrong.”

Big Ray “was fortunate because he had beautiful caregivers” who were with him through the end, said his son. Caregivers May and Joan worked with Big Ray for four years before he died in his home.

“This project is about faith,” Raymond Jr. says, “and bringing focus to this disease,” and to those in the shadows of caregiving.

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  1. FCH says:

    The videos were wonderful, beautifully created and persons really touch the hearts of those that viewed them with me.

    Just the right length of time and content, informing as well as letting the caregiver know there is assistance and most of all they are not alone, many others are making the journey also.

  2. KP says:

    Stunning photography. You can really see the depth of the love – and the exhaustion – on the faces of the caregivers.

  3. CS says:

    I absolutely love the Making Sense of Alzheimer’s web page!!!! Wow, the page had my attention for well over 30 minutes. From the sleek layout to the historical timeline to Raymond Holman’s encouraging story…I’m a fan.

  4. Thomas Healy says:

    Holman’s photographs evoke the “portraits of great men” that line the European wings of museum galleries; the portraits that display successful white men, often in their uniforms of war, commerce or the church. With images of African American women who have distinguished themselves for their selfless dedication to a friend or family member who is slowly declining from dementia, Holman challenges the viewer to see portraits of ambition, success and dignity in different colors, different images.

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