Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walk for a Memory Cure

This weekend, my family and I participated in the Northwest Metro Memory Walk. There are twenty-one Memory Walks in Georgia this month, and you can think of them as a sort of Relay For Life for Alzheimer's research and support. The walks are overseen by local people -- Georgia has 887 teams -- under the supervision and guidance of the national Alzheimer's Association. Teams raise money for the AlzOrg, which goes to research, help hotlines, support groups and educational programs.

The walk starated at the Maple Avenue Methodist Church right near the Marietta Square. We arrived about 9 a.m., and the morning started out sunny, but the clouds rolled in soon after. For one, I was glad, since that dropped the temperature down quite a bit and the weather was perfect for a brisk walk. We began our Walk a little after ten, and there was an oops! moment when our trust train of the Square passed by. There are trains that pass by the west side of the Square at regular intervals and unfortunately, we'd just started!

We crossed over South Marietta Parkway and walked around the Square, looping back around on Cherokee (I believe) towards the neighborhood near Maple Avenue. Mom, Dad, Ben and I chose to do the three mile walk, which included the Square and neighborhood. As early as it was, I really enjoyed just getting out with the family, talking and walking. Mom and I were definitely raring to walk faster, but the guys weren't so much into that. She and I walk for excercise, so we're used to moving at a quicker pace! The neighborhood we walked through provided a great view. The area is historic, and there are many cool old houses that reach back to the earlier parts of the century. We had a couple of lively discussion about the colors, styles and historic "characteristics." Like the shack (literally, but the walls were even) that served as a garage. But alas, no one can tear it down because its...historic!

In all, it was a great event, with 357 walkers. Everyone seemed very upbeat and enthusiastic about what the Memory Walk is all about, which gives me hope for the success of Walks everywhere. As of Saturday, the NW Metro chapter had raised nearly $48,000, which is phenomenal. My mom helped start a team at her wokr, and according to the NW Metro site, they raised $2,237. Way to go, Administaff! And thank you to everyone who donated!

For me and my family, the Walk was about more than service. My paternal grandpa has Alzheimer's, as did his sister, Ivalue, and my family has lived what Alzheimer's means. I can't compare the pain and sorrow to anything else, because this is the most serious disease a close family member has faced. But it is painful, because the rest of us understand and see what has happened. We realized for certain about four years ago that Grandpa had the disease, after seeing some warning signs and getting a diagnosis after he stayed in the hospital for something unrelated.

Granpda was bron in 1919 and grew up a farmboy in Britton, South Dakota. He served in WWII as a clerk and translator, and then started his career as a public school teacher (mostly history, I believe). He was so smart, and had such a vast store of knowledge. He and my grandma would do crosswords every day. They had their little stations set up in their home with Sharpwriter mechanical pencils, crossword dictionaries and notes. They would bring their supplies with them when they visited us. Sharpwriters always make me think of them. And his jokes! I'll never forget the story about the "ice cream." During one family gathering, back in the day, he and another relative served up some mashed potatoes to look like dessert, gave it to a third relative -- voila! Sour puss look and laughs. His dinner joke was to stick your thumb in the stick butter as he passed the dish. He always kept us on our toes.

Grandpa still has a lot of his humor, and some of his old grumpiness. But the tragedy of Alzheimer's is that his memories and most of his personality are gone. His Alzheimer's progressed pretty quickly, taking his speech skills and memory at the same rate. The tragedy of Alzheimer's is that your loved one is still here, but they are no longer aware of themselves, their lives, or anyone around them.

This is part of my story with Alzheimer's, but the disease reaches much farther. Every seventy seconds, another person develops/is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and over 200,000 Georgians suffer this disease. It is progressive, fatal, and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Baby boomers are the largest group at risk right now. I encourage everyone to do their own research on Alzheimer's, and to take your own steps to protect your mind and body because no one is immune to this disease.

The NW Metro chapter will continue taking donations until Nov. 15, and you can make donations to AlzOrg any time during the year.

Extra stats (
-35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer's
-5.3 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's
-By 2050, there may be up to a million new cases a year equaling 16 million people with Alz
-Half of all nursing home residents have some form of Alz/dementia
-Nursing home costs an average $42,000, but can be even more expensive in parts of the country

Links -- more information, and where I found many of the facts mentioned here
Alzheimer's Association
Northwest Metro Memory Walk
CDC Statistics
Global Statistics
Impact on America
Championing the Cause

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