While people don’t like to talk about the agony of watching someone they love suffer, it happens — a lot. 

Alzheimer’s is an especially brutal illness because it steals the very essence of who you are. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. It affects memory, thinking and even behavior. It can be hard to spot at first and the symptoms usually develop slowly. In fact, the brain starts changing years before any symptoms appear. 

Once someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, there are three stages: mild, moderate and severe. Many people consider it a disease that only affects the elderly;  while many senior citizens do develop Alzheimer’s, it is not a normal part of aging. Once someone is diagnosed, they live, on average, four to eight years. 

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the only one of the top 10 causes that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. Close to two-thirds of American’s with Alzheimer’s are women. 

Doctors and researchers are working towards a cure, though. Because of its progressive nature, time is of the essence. Sept. 12 offers an opportunity to make a difference. The 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer’s opening ceremony begins at 10 a.m. at the home of the SwampDogs,  J.P. Riddle Stadium, known affectionately to many as The Swamp.

The funds raised at this event will go to support the Alzheimer’s Association. Founded in 1980, the Alzheimer’s Association’s mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through promotion of brain health.  

McKee Homes, a long-time Alzheimer Association advocate, has planned an event that is sure to be a good time as well as one that will make a difference in countless lives. Julie Russo, co-chair for the event, is looking for a great turn out. 

“We’ve got a lot going on during registration, which starts at 9 a.m.,” she said.  “We have Pine Forest High School Band coming to perform. Fayetteville Champions for the Children will be there, too. They dress up in superhero costumes and paint people’s faces. Victoria Huggins, the second runner up for Miss North Carolina, will be there, too. She is also going to sing the “National Anthem”.”

Russo noted that there will be plenty of children’s games and other activities as well. 

“There is just a short window of time to enjoy this though, because the opening ceremony starts at 10 a.m..”

The ceremony features the four faces of people affected by Alzheimer’s: someone who has Alzheimer’s and is currently living with it; someone who cares for someone with Alzheimer’s; someone who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s; and someone who has no experience with the disease, but is an advocate for the cause. They each write a narrative that is read by the emcee. 

“We want it to be uplifting and to let people know that it is okay to talk about it. It’s okay to be uncomfortable but we need to talk about it,” said Russo. “People are living with Alzheimer’s and managing it and it is okay for people to see what that looks like.”

Unlike other walks, this one is less than a mile and that is by design. The event organizers wanted to make sure that everyone would be able to participate and finish the walk. 

“The event is more about coming together and not as much about the walking,” said Russo. “The ceremony happens, then everyone gets a flower that represents one of the four speakers.” 

“We have a promise garden and the attendees plant the flowers before the walk starts.  So at the end of the walk, they come around and see the flowers in the promise garden.”

The walk concludes with recognition of the number of walkers that attended and an accounting of the money that was raised. “Then we end with the “Wobble Baby.” It is a line dance,” said Russo.

Walkers can turn in their money on Friday, Sept. 11 from 4-6 p.m. during Bank Night at
The Swamp.

Anyone who raises more than $100 will receive a T-shirt. Register online at alz.org or on the day of the event. 


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