By Kristina Houck
Del Mar resident Sandy Braff will receive the Reagan/Thal Legacy Award from the San Diego/Imperial Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at the 17th annual Memories in the Making Art Auction March 21 at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club.
Braff has led an Alzheimer’s Association-sponsored support group for caregivers for 25 years.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Braff, who moved to Del Mar in 1983. “I love what I do. I love working with the caregivers. It’s become a total passion. I’ve fallen in love with this population. To be getting an award because I fell in love and love the work I do, it just seems like I’m getting a birthday present and it’s not my birthday.”
Braff began leading the group when she was hired at a social services agency in Vista in the 1980s. The person who previously held her position founded the group more than 30 years ago.
“I kind of fell into it,” she said. “It’s the best thing that happened.”
The caregiver support group was going to be disbanded by the agency when Braff left to open her own practice about seven years later. Therefore, she continued to facilitate the group as a volunteer.
“They were going to stop the group, and I couldn’t see that happening,” she recalled. “It’s so important for these people to have a place to come to — to pour out their hearts and talk about things that only the people in the group understand. People outside, their family and their friends, don’t really understand what a caregiver dealing with Alzheimer’s is going through.”
Today, the group remains free and open to loved ones caring for family members living with Alzheimer’s disease. It meets from 1:30-3:30 p.m. every Thursday at Vista Gardens.
“There’s a great sense of community in that group,” Braff said. “It’s a very cohesive, wonderful group.”
A licensed marriage and family therapist, Braff began her career in early child development, a field she studied in her native country of South Africa. After a brief stint at a preschool in London, she moved to the United States in 1967 and later earned a master’s in counseling from San Diego State University.
“I always wanted to help people in some way,” said Braff, who co-authored “Staying Connected While Letting Go: The Paradox of Alzheimer’s Caregiving.”
“I feel there’s a big part of me that can empathize and identify with people’s issues.”
Since retiring from her practice eight years ago, Braff has continued to facilitate the weekly group she began leading 25 years ago. She also leads two monthly groups from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at Sunrise at La Costa, and from 1:30-3 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month at Sunrise of La Jolla. Both groups are co-sponsored by the hosting facilities and the Alzheimer’s Association.
“They’re basically having a daily crisis. There’s always something going on that they have to deal with,” said Braff about her group members. “Yet underneath all this sorrow and sadness, I see a lot of strength, a lot of resilience. They get up and keep doing this.”
The Memories in the Making Art Auction will begin at 6:30 p.m. March 21 at the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe. The event will feature a silent auction, live auction, food and drink stations, and live acoustic music by the local band, Ottopilot.
Proceeds will support programs and services for the more than 60,000 San Diegans battling Alzheimer’s disease, as well as advance critical research for a cure.
For more information about the San Diego/Imperial Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association or the event, visit