During an event Saturday in Mount Airy, one got the impression that Alzheimer’s disease is winning the battle — but those fighting vigorously to eradicate it will win the war.
More than 300 people assembled in Riverside Park for the 2017 Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an annual event of the area Alzheimer’s Association aimed at building awareness about the devastating illness and raising funds for research to find a cure.
“We know we are facing a relentless and devastating disease that can’t yet be prevented, cured or even slowed,” former Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran told the crowd while hosting a program before the walk on the Ararat River Greenway.
“This cause is personal to me,” added Cochran, who said she has felt firsthand the pain of Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia that affects the thought processes, memory and behavior of its victims.
Similar to many of those assembled Saturday, her own family members have been stricken with the disease, including a grandmother who died from it and Cochran’s mother who is now battling Alzheimer’s.
The former mayor’s mom is among 5 million Americans living with the ailment, a number that could rise to 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and someone in the nation develops Alzheimer’s disease every six seconds.
Sharing “love and memories”
Saturday’s event in Mount Airy was expected to raise about $38,000 for Alzheimer’s research. This involved the individual fundraising efforts of about 30 teams including entities that cater to the older population such as the local RidgeCrest retirement community, nursing homes, the Kindred at Home assisting-living service and others.
Teams also were there representing individuals and families who have dealt with Alzheimers’ disease, including “Team Phill.”
It is named for Phill William Whitaker, 75, of Mount Airy, a former Surry County building inspector who has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for 13 years. Whitaker was in a wheelchair Saturday and was pushed along the greenway during the walk with the help of family members including his wife Phyllis.
Team Phill has become a regular participant in the local Walk to End Alzheimer’s and this year it is listed as the second-highest team fundraiser with $2,365 generated.
Phyllis Whitaker described the difficulties of coping with an illness that gradually robs people of the gifts of their minds.
“We just try to share a whole lot of love and memories,” she said of efforts to maintain a positive demeanor despite her husband’s condition. “He’s such a good person.”
Colors of Alzheimer’s
A panorama of colors was on display during Saturday’s event at Riverside Park, including eye-catching T-shirts sported by the various teams, but more importantly large artificial flowers participants carried highlighting different segments of Alzheimer’s involvement.
Many had purple flowers that indicated they had lost someone to Alzheimer’s disease, while blue flowers denoted those who are providing care or other support to someone who is afflicted.
Meanwhile, blue flowers were displayed by those with the disease, while orange flowers were carried by persons who support the cause and a vision of a world without Alzheimer’s.
Hope on horizon
The despair associated with Alzheimer’s was well-represented Saturday, including individual stories of people whose lives have been turned upside-down by the disease.
Cochran, while wielding the microphone, related that of a veteran who had survived a war — but is now dealing with an enemy that doesn’t fight fair. “And this Alzheimer’s is the battle of his life,” she said.
Yet there is reason for hope, due to an ambitious research effort bent on finding a cure. It has enlisted the support of various organizations and businesses such as the Edward D. Jones investment company, a sponsor of Saturday’s event.
Kody Easter of the local Edward D. Jones office explained during the pre-walk program that the St. Louis-based financial services firm decided to get involved with the Alzheimer’s cause out of concern for its clients.
“Nearly a third of our clients are aged 65 and older,” Easter said of a population group in which one of every 10 people has Alzheimer’s dementia.
He said company personnel have seen how it damages people’s relationships with family and friends while also destroying finances.
Edward D. Jones didn’t want to sit back and watch, Easter said. And thanks to an alliance forged with the Alzheimer’s Association in 2016, the company committed cash, in-kind support and associate fundraising expected to exceed $5 million over two years.
“One day we will end this disease,” Easter said emphatically.
Cochran was equally enthused about those prospects.
“Alzheimer’s is not going to back down — neither shall we,” the former mayor said. “This disease is resilient — but so are we.”
Cochran indicated that unified efforts such as that displayed Saturday eventually will make the difference.
“I truly believe that together we can beat Alzheimer’s.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.