The end of Alzheimer’s disease won’t be hastened by just sitting around and waiting, and a crowd estimated at 300 to 400 people made that clear Saturday by vigorously hitting the trail at Riverside Park.
“Today’s huge turnout is part of your unwavering commitment to find a cure,” said Deborah Cochran, a former Mount Airy mayor who was an emcee for the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s along the Ararat River Greenway.
Cochran was speaking at a program just before the walkers embarked on their trek, along with others pushed in wheelchairs. They formed a panoramic display of purple, green, red and other T-shirts representing different teams — some named for Alzheimer’s victims — while carrying flowers of various colors designating them as care-givers, those who’ve lost someone and others affected.
One thing readily apparent at Saturday’s event was that while Alzheimer’s dementia mainly strikes older persons, people of all ages have a stake, as evidenced by the crowd ranging from babies in strollers to persons who looked to be in their 80s.
“This disease not only affects the patients,” Cochran said of the condition that afflicts one of every 10 people 65 and older, “but everyone around them.”
Along with promoting Alzheimer’s awareness and providing information about resources available to deal with it, Saturday’s walk generated substantial funding for research, care and support.
“We’ve already raised over $35,000,” event spokeswoman Christine John-Fuller said before the walk began, with more donations expected to add to the total.
The goal of $28,000 had been met earlier in the week, according to John-Fuller, who is with the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, which spearheaded Saturday’s gathering. It is among 14 walks scheduled in central and western North Carolina during September and October.
Money raised will aid ongoing efforts to find a cure.
“Ultimately, the end of Alzheimer’s will come through research,” said David Bumgarner, who also emceed Saturday’s program.
“One of these days we’re going to end this disease,” Bumgarner told the somber yet enthusiastic throng, “and we’re going to do it together.”
In addition to funds raised by 34 teams and countless individuals, corporate clout is being wielded in the battle against Alzheimer’s through sponsorships by various entities, including the Edward D. Jones investment firm, a major walk sponsor.
The reason for that is clear, said Logan Draughn, financial adviser for the local Edward D. Jones office, who explained that persons in the age group most vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease represent a big chunk of the firm’s clientele.
“We care about our clients,” Draughn said of Edward D. Jones, which did not want to stand by and watch them lose their life savings and otherwise suffer from the disease. “We will not rest until the world is rid of Alzheimer’s.”
“We all have a reason why we’re here today, and we truly believe we can end Alzheimer’s,” Bumgarner said.
Emotional support vital
Just as important as the money raised Saturday was the support role the walk played for the broad community of those whose lives have been touched by the disease that 5.7 million Americans are now living with — including 170,000 North Carolinians.
“This means so much to me,” said Karen Aldridge of King, whose husband Steve — though only 50 — suffers from early onset dementia. “This means the world to me, honestly.”
Her husband “no longer knows his wife of 32 years,” Aldridge said of the unique pain experienced by family members of Alzheimer’s victims, who are robbed of their minds and memories while loved ones watch helplessly.
“So I fight the good fight,” the King resident said of being actively involved in efforts to spread awareness and find a cure. This included handing out facsimiles of flowers representing how Alzheimer’s disease has affected people in different ways, and later sharing her personal story with the crowd.
This is therapeutic for her, Aldridge said. “It helps to give support to other people.”
One of those receiving a flower from Aldridge was Barry Revis of Elkin, a purple one indicating that someone close to him had been lost to the disease.
“My wife’s sister passed away with Alzheimer’s,” explained Revis, who was attending the Mount Airy walk for the second time.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the event that acknowledges everyone impacted in addition to those stricken. “Other family members are affected and this gives us hope.”
Some participants chose to express their feelings by writing messages on a Memory Wall on the Riverside Park grounds — three different chalkboards where they could personalize their thoughts about those being honored or remembered through the walk.
“I miss you, Mama,” one read, while another expressed a fond memory of “Nanny’s dancing.”
“They have some pretty powerful stories,” said John-Fuller, the Alzheimer’s Association representative.
One of those present Saturday with such a message was Kristen Harris of Martinsville, Virginia, who was part of a group called George’s Gang, honoring her grandfather George Harris of Stuart, an Alzheimer’s sufferer who recently died.
Kristen lamented how the disease robs people of quality time they otherwise could spend with loved ones, and indicated that she would like to think her grandpa was watching Saturday and pleased with her and other family members being together.
“I think he would be really happy to know we’ve come together to do something for him.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.