Taking their cause to the streets

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By Kirsten Laskey

The rate of Americans becoming diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease is reaching epidemic proportions.

Agnes Vallejos, executive director of New Mexico’s chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said there are 5.2 million Americans with the disease. New Mexico is not immune to the disease; more than 38,000 citizens in the state have been diagnosed, in fact the disease is found right in town. Pauline Schneider, executive director of Los Alamos Retired Senior Organization, said 500 people in Los Alamos have been diagnosed with the disease.

It is not just the patient who suffers from this form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects everybody, Vallejos said.

The statistics appear alarming, but it seems they have not startled the federal government enough to take a lot of action.

Vellejos said the U.S. government’s funding for the Alzheimer’s Association has remained flat for the past three years.

Perhaps because of this lukewarm response from the national government, communities throughout New Mexico, including Los Alamos, are taking matters into their own hands.

They are raising money and awareness to combat Alzheimer’s through the Memory Walk and the local walk will occur Saturday at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. Registration begins at 7:58 a.m. and walkers will begin their trek at 9:28 a.m.

In addition to a walk, which is a mile-long and will start and end at the senior center, there will be a 5K run and a children’s fun run.

Other activities include a demonstration by the Los Alamos Police Department on Project Life Saver, a program that offers tracking bracelets to Alzheimer’s patients so they can be located should they become lost.

A gift basket raffle and a breakfast will also be held.

There is no fee to participate; however, to get a T-shirt and breakfast, walkers and runners must pay $25.

To further raise money, participants can raise pledge money and collect donations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Last year, Schneider said, the local Memory Walk raise gave $22,000 to the association and 100 people participated. This year, the goal is to raise $28,000.

The majority of the money stays in the state, said Jerry Bower, a member of the local Memory Walk committee.

It is money that is very much appreciated. “Memory Walk is our largest fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association,” Vallejos said. “Without the support of the people ee we wouldn’t be able to provide all the services we do at no cost.”

The association’s core services are providing information and referrals, support groups, a respite program and Project Life Saver. It also offers education and training for professional caregivers, nursing homes, assisted living facility and family caregivers of Alzhiemer’s patients.

Locally, Schneider said, programs for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers include a day-out program at the Betty Ehart Senior Center, which provides supervision to Alzheimer’s patients while their caregivers get a break. There is also a Alzheimer’s Support Group which meets at 6 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at Crossroads Bible Church.

While the walk works to raise money for these programs, it is also working to raise awareness.

To contribute to this effort, Vickie Griffis, a chairwoman of the Memory Walk Committee, said an Alzheimer’s lecture series had been held at the Bradbury Museum.

It is being stressed just how devastating this disease is.

“Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease in as much as it robs a person of their entire selves,” Bower said. “(Alzheimer’s patients) can’t vent emotions ee (they) loose their ability to speak.”

Bower recalled when the disease advanced so far in his late wife that only her eyes would reveal any emotion.

However, he emphasized, “A person with advanced Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a sense of reality but they are still a person, we should understand that.”

“It means so much,” Schneider said, “when the community supports this really devastating disease because there is no cure.”

Griffis added people show their support because it’s a chance to make a difference.

Plus, it has impacted a lot of people in the community. Griffis said she has lived in Los Alamos for three years and during that time of talking about Alzheimer’s, she learned “as soon as you say, ‘Alzheimer’s,’ they will say, ‘I know someone who ee’ ”

“I think people are aware,” she said, “But maybe not aware of how widespread it is or what resources and information is out there.”