coverThis year marks the sixth annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Last year’s walk was the biggest yet with 800 people participating. The event raised $81,000. Since its inception, the Fayetteville Walk to End Alzheimer’s has raised more than $250,000 to support the Alzheimer’s Association. Event organizers are hoping for an even bigger turnout this year. On Sept. 24, at 9 a.m., join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at J.P. Riddle Stadium. 

Pat McKee and his wife Julie Russo have been a part of the Fayetteville Walk to End Alzheimer’s since the first one in 2011. “Pat’s dad, Joe Mckee, died from complications related to Alzheimer’s in 2010. So, Pat went to the Alzheimer’s Association and told them we wanted to help make a difference. We hosted the first walk in 2011,” said  Russo adding that there were about  200 people at the first walk.

The event begins at 9 a.m. with registration and activities. All participants are encouraged to register online at that, the fun begins. “We will have a dance troupe perform right at 9 a.m., so early birds get to see a couple performances. We are going to have “Carolina Selfie Stand,” owned and operated by Jennifer Brooks, there, which we’ve never had before,” said Russo. “It is a really cool photo booth… you can walk away with a picture and/or get it texted or emailed to you when they are done. She is donating her services to us. We are going to have Champion for the Children — another volunteer group that dresses up as princesses and super heroes and does face painting. I was a big hit last year. We will have bounce houses, too.”

One of the most meaningful and poignant parts of the day is the promise garden ceremony. “Once you register, you get a flower affiliated with your connection to Alzheimer’s — whether you have the disease, or lost someone to it or care for someone or if you are an advocate, and you can write something on each petal about who you want to honor.  During the ceremony, each group raises their flower to symbolize all this affected by the disease.” Next, Victoria Huggins, Fayetteville native and reigning Miss Wilmington will sing the National Anthem. She is also the event emcee. “The opening ceremony is at 10 a.m., and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m. We are done walking by 11 or 11:15 a.m.”

While there is indeed a walk, it is a short one at less than a mile. That is because it’s important to Russo that everyone is able to participate. This event is about so much more than the walk, and that is something that Russo says is important to the spirit of the cause. This is about building a community of support and raising money for Alzheimer’s support and research. “Seventy-eight percent of all the money raised goes to care and research. The Alzhiemer’s Association is a national organization, but there is much happening in North Carolina as well as in the Fayetetteville area. “We have a caregiver support group at Carolina Assisted Living. Caregivers can go here and talk to others in the same situation. This group is supported by Peggy Best, LCSW, associate director of programs and outreach, Alzheimer’s Association Eastern North Carolina Chapter. Dr. Ben Barr at UNC Pembroke is an Alzheimer’s researcher, and he is working right here in the area. I am pleased to be working with an organization that both supports us locally, but also has a national presence. Because the Alzheimer’s Association is a national organization, it  brings with it some hefty power. I joined a team of advocates in March of this year and we went to Congress to ask for $400 million to advance research, and in June they appropriated those funds. This experience was life-changing for me.”   

Securing funding for research is vital. The challenge here is twofold according to Russo. “Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death right now. Scientists working on this say the cure is out there but we only have the funding to research 13 percent of the viable plans that scientist have to search for a cure. Because of the aging population, in the coming years, the government is going to spend a huge amount on care in Medicare and Medicaid. We really need to spend more money on research. What the government spends now on research is a fraction of what we spend on care. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5.2 million to a projected 13.8 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.”

In the meantime, while fundraising and research continues, Russo maintains that there are many reasons to be hopeful.” We have an opportunity to come together and empower caregivers and people affected. They often feel helpless. When we come together at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s we have 1,000 people in the same space willing to say the ‘A’ word and talk openly about it.”

Educating people about the disease is another component to making progress against Alzheimer’s. “Early diagnosis is so important,” said Russo. “The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you can plan out how you want to be cared for. As the disease progresses, one’s ability to make decisions like this diminishes. Early on, you can have a say in what you want to happen.”

There are other ways to make a difference, too. There are clinical trials the Alzheimer’s Association does. “They are always looking for people to participate,” said Russo. ”Go to to sign up. They also have a hotline that is available 24/7 1.800.272.3900. It is staffed with licensed clinicians, which is a great support to caregivers. You can call at 3 a.m. with an issue and there is someone there to help talk you through it.”

Find out more about Alzheimer’s at:

Find out more about the Fayetteville Walk to End Alzheimer’s at

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