end alz

Hundreds a walkers participated to raise money and awareness during the East Central Walk to End Alzheimer's event at JSU. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

 

JACKSONVILLE — Hundreds of people dressed in purple walked a mile and back Sunday afternoon along the Chief Ladiga Trail in Jacksonville to shed light on Alzheimer’s disease, one of the nation’s leading causes of death, and to raise money for a cure.

Many of the walkers had lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease, while others were caretakers for someone living with the disease. At least one person who walked has Alzheimer’s.

Those who participated in the sixth annual East Alabama Walk to End Alzheimer’s began their trek at 2 p.m. from Paul Carpenter Village at Jacksonville State University to the Jacksonville Community Center and back.

The procession was led by city of Oxford fleet superintendent Bill Lawley, who drove a white truck adorned with purple streamers.

Those who’d lost a loved one to the disease were given a purple pinwheel flower, caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients were given a yellow one and supporters of the cause were given an orange one. One person, who lives with the disease, was given a blue one.

While people walked, volunteers from the JSU softball team “planted” the flowers for walkers to see when they returned. A white flower was added to the display, symbolic of the first Alzheimer’s survivor once a cure is found.

Alzheimer’s Walk chairwoman Connie Thompson said Alabama ranks third for the most deaths from the disease in the nation.

“This is a problem right here in Alabama,” Thompson said. “It’s not just somewhere else.”

Despite its prevalence, Thompson said, there is still no cure.

Thompson, who watched her father-in-law die from the disease, said she understands the emotional toll it can take on families.

“It’s so hard to have someone that you’ve known for all these years and there comes a point where they don’t know who you are,” Thompson said. “That’s the hardest part, losing someone that’s still here.”

Summer McNeal of Weaver said Alzheimer’s has affected numerous aspects of her life.

As a long-term care ombudsman — someone who advocates for those in long-term care facilities — McNeal said she works with Alzheimer’s patients frequently.

“I have seen individuals in nursing homes and in society robbed of the lives they were supposed to live,” McNeal said.

McNeal said her husband’s aunt suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and it has been difficult watching her struggle.

“She cries a lot because, I think, that’s part of the disease, and I hate to see her like that,” McNeal said. “She’s not who she used to be.”

Emily Kilgore and Quentin Chapman, who drove an hour to the walk from Crossville, said they came to honor their great-grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s two years ago.

“It’s relieving knowing that they’re not suffering anymore, but it’s hard to get used to them not being here,” Chapman said.

Kilgore said she felt grateful that so many people came together to support those with Alzheimer’s.

Thompson said her goal this year was to raise $35,000. Shortly after the walk started, she said, about $36,000 had already been given and the association had not finished taking donations.

“I feel like we will raise a lot more money,” Thompson said.

The walk was one of more than 600 similar events held nationwide by the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition to the softball players, Thompson said, members of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority and Kappa Sigma fraternity also volunteered at the walk.

Thompson said she would like to see more people get involved with the walk and urged anyone interested to visit alz.org/walkvolunteer.

Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563.

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