'It's nice to have friends,' Betty said after receiving a box of cookies.
Christmas is still on the way, but it looks like Santa has already visited Joshua Pettit's house with his giant bag of gifts. The 47-year-old has meticulously collected a large selection of presents—ranging from t-shirts and homemade blankets to plush animal toys and baby dolls—from well-wishers and complete strangers from across the globe for his mother, Betty Pettit, who has Alzheimer's. "Lately there's been an onslaught of gifts," Pettit told The Charlotte Observer, amazed at Betty's haul despite the fact that he's a major reason it exists. "The mailbox place, they send me a picture every day of the pile and they say, 'Your mom's got more stuff!'"
Pettit, a web designer who defines himself as a naturally "techy" man, began posting videos of Betty in 2020. She became an overnight phenomenon on TikTok after he shared a video of his mother spotting her reflection in the mirror, mistaking it for someone else, and striking up a pleasant chat with it. For Pettit and his dad, Bob, the videos are a lighthearted distraction, a method to retain memories, and a chance to "enjoy the good moments."
The presents serve as pleasant distractions for Betty, who might endure tension and anxiety throughout the day. Sweet remarks and presents, such as a dancing cactus or a customized mug, provide opportunities to refocus her attention on good events and feelings.
Some internet admirers have given Betty presents developed specifically for those living with dementia, such as fidget blankets and a baby doll, both of which are intended to help those with Alzheimer's feel "calm" rather than anxious.Thousands of users have told the Pettits that they've known and loved individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's, and many have also left the family encouraging words, according to Insider. Messages informing them they're doing a good job are among the most "rewarding," said Pettit. "It's nice to have friends," Betty says in a video after looking appreciatively at a box of Crumbl cookies.
Betty has since maintained her reputation as a minor online celebrity, thanks to her son's series of videos highlighting the small joys in her life. At the same time, Pettit says he sometimes wonders if it's appropriate for him to be exposing his mother's suffering in this way. Especially since her health is deteriorating. Betty's memory loss and other cognitive challenges had become all-consuming limiters by the time the pandemic began. "She's been a different person for two or three years," he explained. "So that was definitely a sad process, coming to terms with it. And then eventually you reach the point where you have to embrace it."
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition involving parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disorder can start with mild memory loss and eventually lead to problems with carrying out a conversation and responding to the environment. "People relate. They have a grandmother, a parent, you know, somebody that they knew that struggles with this disease... My mom reminded them a lot of the people that they loved or lost," Pettit told CNN.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older are coping with Alzheimer's this year. Pettit said that despite the prevalence of Alzheimer's, many people may not have a realistic perception of what the disease is like based on comments on his videos. "We were just being silly when we started, but I didn't realize that we were shining a light on a condition that a lot of people perhaps did not know a lot about," he said.