While speaking with the Detroit Free Press ahead of his appearance at an Alzheimer’s Association event in Michigan on October 26, Hawk detailed how his mother slowly lost the capability to do everyday tasks as the neurological condition took hold.
“She is 94 now … I think it was about 15 years ago when you could tell that she was not remembering very basic information,” Hawk, 51, told the newspaper. “Her driving was the first thing to go … It was just clear she wasn’t really safe on the road and she was a danger to others.”
Hawk and his siblings came together to help their mother after they witnessed the shift in her mental status.
“My siblings and I offered to get her transportation,” Hawk said. “That was a battle because she didn’t want to lose that freedom. And then she started losing touch with reality in certain aspects, where the things she would say were more concerning. They were … I can’t explain it. She would mention things that were not real, and we knew that something was off.”
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and die, according to Mayo Clinic. Its early symptoms vary from person to person, but they typically include cognitive impairment, having difficulty finding words, spatial issues, and impaired judgment, according to the National Institute on Aging. It is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States for the elderly.
Nancy’s symptoms have worsened in recent years and she now has trouble recognizing her own family, Hawk told the outlet. But he is grateful for the time he can still spend with her.
“It’s just a bummer,” explained Hawk, who retired from skateboarding competitions in 1999 after winning more than 70 contests throughout his time as a professional. “I mean it’s more of a selfish thing where you want that recognition, and so somehow that is validating. But in reality, you should just be there and spend time with them regardless and not need that acknowledgment.”
“We all want that connection, and at the same time, you have to remember them for who they were,” he added. “I think that over the last couple years, I was always looking for glimpses of recognition. And now, I don’t seek that so much. I just accept that. I enjoy that she’s still here and I can spend some time with her.”
One of the symptoms of the disease can be sudden aggression and anger, and Hawk said he made the decision to shield his children from his mother’s sometimes violent episodes.
“Honestly, I haven’t brought my kids to see her in a while because it’s just kind of scary. It’s not that I’m in denial or hiding them from it,” said Hawk, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of landing the 900 — the trick that made him a household name across the country.
This aggression can be caused by many factors, including physical discomfort and poor communication.
“It’s just sort of like I’ve seen her go through some pretty scary episodes of screaming or kicking, and I just don’t want them to be exposed to one of those episodes,” Hawk said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, genes play a part in who eventually develops the condition, and Hawk has been tested to catch any signs as early as possible.
“I’ve been proactive in trying to see if I am more susceptible,” Hawk explained. “It seems that I am taking the right steps, being aware of my own situation, and hopefully, being proactive in helping to … fend it off as much as I can.”