BENNINGTON >> It was a day to remember those whose memories are fading.
Roughly 100 activists walked two miles and raised more than $10,000 Sunday to help fight Alzheimer's disease.
The Vermont Alzheimer's Association hosted its annual Walk to End Alzheimer's at Willow Park. Mary Thon, Alzheimer's Association development specialist, talked about how she lost her mother to the disease at age 67. She reflected on the impact the disease has on surrounding loved ones, including the caregivers.
Participants held up cloth flowers in unison. Blue flowers stood for the individual who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's; purple symbolized that the individual lost someone to the disease; yellow meant that the individual is a caregiver; and orange flower holders raised them up as supporters of the movement.
"In the United States today, more than 5 million people live with Alzheimer's disease and over 15 million individuals are serving as their unpaid caregivers. As the prevalence of this disease continues to grow, cost of care has escalated into the hundreds of billions and it's destroying families, finances and the future," Thon said. "I'm standing here today because I truly believe that the end of Alzheimer's starts with me."
Melissa Squires can vouch for the growing care costs and the impact on families. Her family relocated their mother who's in her early 60s to a local care facility because compensation wasn't available to become a caregiver. She said unless the one diagnosed couldn't go to the bathroom or get dressed on their own, then she couldn't qualify, despite her mother's decline in mental capabilities.
"It's more on a physical note," Squires said. "My mom is young and therefore my siblings and I are on the younger side and we have families and jobs. None of us could do the care giving full time. We were filling in when we didn't have the hours. It was very difficult."
Squires' grandmother still lives at home, she noted.
"She's 93 and she had taken care of her parents in that same home when they passed," she said. "We fought tooth and nail to give my grandmother that. It's heartbreaking to not be able to do it for mom. She progressed further. Once you get rid of a set of symptoms, you tend to pick up another set of symptoms. She still needs round the clock care."
The Alzheimer's Association offers a number of resources to get certified as a caregiver. They include online care training and certification, free e-learning workshops, local workshops and trainings, and literature on care giving.
Squires said it took years to get a diagnosis from a neurologist after several physician appointments. Even then, her family had to learn everything about the disease on their own.
"Basically we were told 'she has Alzheimer's, good luck,'" she said.
Having the power of attorney was the most important part of dealing with financials, Squires noted.
She is now a trained volunteer community educator. She acquired the title after attending her first walk three years ago in Bennington. Since then she's learned a lot about the disease, including how a healthy diet and exercise can help with prevention. Eleven teams formed to raise money at the walk. Harry's Harriers had the most participants, 12, and raised the most — $1,675. Other teams were The Unforgettables, CLR Strutters, Southwestern Vermont Career Development Center, Vermont Tech Nursing Classes and many more.
Edward Jones served as the walk's national sponsor.
Alzheimer's is a form of dementia — a general term for memory loss. It occurs when plaques — protein fragment deposits — and tangles — twisted fibers of a protein called "tau" — build up inside cells. This happens in areas of the brain involved in memory and eventually spreads to the rest of the brain, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared November as National Alzheimer's Awareness Month and those who wish to support it should wear purple.
For more information visit www.alz.org/.
— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.