'Not alone': Walk to End Alzheimer's is downtown Saturday

·4 min read

Sep. 21—Those with Alzheimer's disease, who are caring for someone with Alzheimer's, who have lost someone to Alzheimer's or who are simply dedicated to the mission of ending Alzheimer's are invited to show and share support at the Walk to End Alzheimer's in Dalton on Saturday.

The four colors of the Promise Garden at the walk — blue, for someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia; yellow, for a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's; purple, for someone who has lost someone to the disease; and orange, for those who want to support the cause of ending Alzheimer's — demonstrate the reach of Alzheimer's, said Dan Phillips, coordinator of the Dalton walk. His grandmother had Alzheimer's and eventually died from it, an experience that launched Phillips deeper into Alzheimer's research, support and the Alzheimer's Association.

"My aunt was totally caring for (my grandmother), and it just blew me away," said Phillips, who is now a development director for the Alzheimer's Association's Georgia chapter. Living in Albany at the time, he started a golf tournament to raise awareness of Alzheimer's and funds to defeat it, then began walking with a team in his local Walk to End Alzheimer's.

"I met a lot of good people and fell in love with it," he said. "The Alzheimer's Association is the largest private funder of Alzheimer's research, and it's behind only the United States government and the Chinese government."

The Alzheimer's Association is also a crucial arm of support for caregivers, operating an around the clock helpline that can be reached at (800) 272-3900, he said.

"Caregivers often don't take care of themselves — my aunt was an example of that — and one of the hardest things to do is ask for help, but you need help when caring for someone with Alzheimer's."

"I think they feel frustrated, alone and exhausted," said Jeanie Christian, who facilitates a support group for "care partners," spouses and adult children of those with Alzheimer's. "They need someone to tell them they're not alone, and that it's OK to feel that way."

Christian's support group moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she has no plans to stop meeting online, as the group has become much more accessible remotely, she said.

"We have people from Savannah and North Carolina now."

"My training is in social services, (so) support groups are what I know how to do," she said. The "empathy piece" individuals find in support groups "is huge."

She also works with several individuals with Alzheimer's and other dementias as a geriatric care manager, so "I know the support they need," she said. As a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's or a similar condition, "you're doing for someone else all the time."

More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease — a leading cause of death in the United States — with more than 11 million family members and friends providing care to people living with Alzheimer's and other dementias, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In Georgia, there are more than 150,000 people living with the disease and 330,000 caregivers.

Christian has participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer's for more than a decade, dating back to her time living in Atlanta, and she fondly recalls one walk where several individuals with Alzheimer's and their spouses/care partners walked together.

That's "a great memory to think about," and the "two drivers" for her to walk are "awareness and fundraising," she said. "Awareness makes a big difference in fundraising."

Due to COVID-19, "we definitely modified (this year's event) a bit," Phillips said. "We're still gathering at Burr Performing Arts Park, but if you (and/or) your team is there and ready to go, you can start walking, instead of everyone congregating together" to start at once.

"Touchless registration" on the day of the event will be prioritized, with "limited paper registration," and "anyone uncomfortable coming can" view the opening ceremony through the Walk to End Alzheimer's app, then walk in their own neighborhood, he said.

"We are asking all volunteers and staff to be vaccinated (against COVID-19) or have a negative COVID-19 test that day, so that should make people feel safer."

The opening ceremony begins at 9 a.m., with the walk starting after that, but "we'll be set up at 8 a.m." for those who want to begin early, he said. To register and receive the latest updates on this year's Walk to End Alzheimer's, visit alz.org/walk.

Christian has numerous members of her church, ChristChurch Presbyterian, walking with her Saturday, and "I'm really excited to show that our church is a resource" for those with Alzheimer's and their care partners, she said. "Our church stands with them."

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