‘Walk to end Alzheimer’s’ slated for Saturday

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@mtairynews.com

It’s said that a long journey starts with a single step, and those to be taken by hundreds of people Saturday in Mount Airy could help lead to a long-awaited remedy for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have to do something to find a cure,” said Phyllis Whitaker of Mount Airy, whose husband Phill, 76, has suffered from the disease for 14 years, one that robs victims of the gift of their minds.

“He does not know who I am most of the time,” Phyllis Whitaker added Tuesday. “It’s devastating.”

One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.

The Whitaker family has attempted to fight back by attending the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Mount Airy. It will be held again Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, when the public is invited to “take the first step to a world without Alzheimer’s.”

“We’ve been doing the walk, I think, about seven years,” Mrs. Whitaker said, which has included forming “Team Phill,” a group named for her husband which is one of 34 teams raising funds in conjunction with the 2018 event.

Registration/check-in for Saturday’s walk begins at 9 a.m., with a ceremony to be held at 10 a.m. Deborah Cochran, former mayor of Mount Airy, and David Bumgarner of Behavioral Services Inc., will emcee the gathering.

The walk will start at 10:30 a.m., when families and friends of persons with Alzheimer’s, those who have lost someone to the disease, persons caring for Alzheimer’s patients and those afflicted with it will traverse the Ararat River Greenway. A closing ceremony is set for 11:15 a.m.

More than 300 people of all ages participated in the 2017 Walk to End Alzheimer’s locally, a display of unity that Phyllis Whitaker finds comfort and strength within — one that shows how people in her situation are not alone.

“It’s a support group.”

The wife of the Alzheimer’s sufferer said it is reassuring to see that so many people are concerned about the disease and working together toward a cure. “It makes me feel good.”

Walk participants also will join in a Promise Garden tribute ceremony to honor those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The colorful and inspirational event additionally will feature entertainment, including family-friendly music.

It also offers an opportunity to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical studies enrollment and support programs and services from the Alzheimer’s Association, organizers say.

Research a key

Saturday’s event in Mount Airy is one of 14 walks held in central and western North Carolina during September and October, spearheaded by the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition to generating awareness and support, the Surry County 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s has a fundraising goal of $28,000 to provide care, support and research.

In addition to those named for Alzheimer’s sufferers such as Team Phill, teams and other groups involved represent entities that serve the older population, such as the local RidgeCrest retirement community and the Kindred at Home assisting-living service.

Funds also are raised by individuals.

Phyllis Whitaker said the money donated will fund more research that hopefully leads to a cure for Alzheimer’s, which 5.7 million Americans are now living with — including 170,000 North Carolina residents.

She offered a personal story about the value of such research, mentioning that her husband was involved in a study for seven years which produced positive results.

However, the effort was not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

“They did not get the results they wanted,” Mrs. Whitaker explained, despite the benefits she witnessed to her husband.

“And I’ve seen a steady decline since.”

Participants share a solemn moment during last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Mount Airy.
Participants share a solemn moment during last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Mount Airy. Tom Joyce | The News

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@mtairynews.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.