Forget Me Not
● By Sandie Tillery
2nd Annual Walk For Alzheimer'sStory: Sandie Tillery Photos: Jim Blasquez
A flower garden of purple, yellow, orange and green sprouted and disappeared on the north side of the Sundial Bridge all in one hour during the second annual Redding Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Some 250 participants, many in wheelchairs, many representing local assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, many in honor of loved ones living and dying with the disease, walked the two-mile route on Sept. 15 after planting their “promise” flowers. From the beginning words of inspiration to the final steps and retrieval of flowers, connections were made among those who carry the cause close to their hearts as advocates, caregivers and those afflicted. Redding participants joined thousands around the country who walked to raise money and awareness.
“I see his internal battle. He slips away, further and further away as the day proceeds. I envision his battle. The ground sinks while he struggles alone to stand firm. Like a light bulb he snaps back and there he is – my stepfather once again, his smile larger than life, his posture upright, unshakable once more. His high-five, being the highlight of my day, delivers me a smile – we stand two men for a brief moment, and for a decimal of forever he is not sick.” ~Richard Velador The incidence of diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease is increasing. “An estimated 5.4 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including at least 800,000 who live alone,” says William Fisher, CEO of the Northern California and Nevada Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. He projects that 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s by 2050 if a cure is not found. The cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at around $200 billion for 2012 and, if not arrested, will “increase to $1.1 trillion per year by 2050.”
Senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s… words long associated with aging. The synapses in our brains don’t pass the messages needed to inform us, remind us and warn us. We forget. We forget that we forget, a sign that this is more than just a momentary lapse. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But “Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging, although the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older,” the association says. Age is considered a risk factor, not the cause.
Cyd and Joyce Watkins, daughter and mother, teased and joked along this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s as Joyce’s caregiver pushed her wheelchair. Debbie Luntey, another walker, shared about the years of loving care and attention and the final moments of loss. She said knowing what should be done for loved ones is much easier than doing it, and that the heart often interferes when, at last, hard decisions must be made. Becky Robinson, Regional Director for the North Valley Region of the Alzheimer’s Association, says, “We realize that the person is still in there… their entire history and life story is still there. They may not be able to talk about it or communicate it, but they identify with it deep in their being, so that can be celebrated. It can help us through this challenging journey.”
Lorene Bower Holley, administrator for Willow Springs, an Alzheimer’s special care center in Redding, has written about the strength of those who suffer from the disease, and along with her staff, celebrates “meaningful moments” in the fading lives of those whose pasts are filled with accomplishment, rich family memories and courage. As this year’s team chairperson for the committee that put together the walk, Holley shares their vision that the distinctive purple-emblemed Walk to End Alzheimer’s will grow as have other important causes, so that the community looks forward to it each fall. Robinson agrees. “It’s a day to feel a sense of community and shared celebration of those who work together and support one another in the fight.”
Cory Post of Redding Radio and emcee of this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s enunciated the Alzheimer’s Association vision: “We look forward to a time when the only memory we lose is of a world with Alzheimer’s.”
Alzheimer’s Association: 800-272-3900, alz.org To make donations: Alzheimer’s Association • 2105 Forest Ave., Suite 130 Chico, CA 95928 (Designate Redding on the check)