By LOIS KINDLE
Alzheimer’s is perhaps the most dreaded of all fatal diseases, one in which the memory progressively deteriorates, the mind loses its ability to focus/concentrate and the body finally forgets how to function.
More than 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and according to Alzheimer’s Association statistics, one in three seniors dies from the disease or other forms of dementia. You or someone you love could be among them.
Members of the South Shore community are presently forming teams to participate in this year’s 14th annual South Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s. It will take place from 9 to 11 a.m., Oct. 15, at United Methodist Church of Sun City Center, 1971 Haverford Place. ABC Action News anchor Jamison Uhler will emcee the program.
A number of public fundraising events have also been scheduled prior to it in connection to the event, which supports the Alzheimer’s Association ongoing research to treat, prevent and, ultimately, find a cure.
“I walk every year to honor my parents,” said event co-chairwoman Ellen Kleinschmidt, team captain of last year’s top fundraising team, Hot Diggity Dogs. “My 90-year-old mother was diagnosed 12 years ago, and my 92-year-old father takes care of her. They’ve been married 70 years, and he will continue to provide her care as long as he physically can. It’s difficult for our family to watch her decline and see the effect it has on my dad, due to stress of being a full-time caregiver. He’s my hero.
“I also walk for a future without Alzheimer’s for my children and granddaughters,” Kleinschmidt added, and selfishly for myself, as I carry the APOE4 gene, which may make my brain more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“If you’re not affected by Alzheimer’s or related dementias now, chances are you will be,” she said.
There are many ways to provide support.
Everyone who participates in some way makes a difference, Kleinschmidt said. It can be through raising money by walking in the event, attending one or more of the pre-Walk fundraisers or donating to the cause directly at www.alz.org/southshore/.
On this site, you’ll find teams representing residential communities like Freedom Plaza, Kings Point and Aston Gardens, and others who have a personal stake in the cause, including Team Purple Power with Captain Cure, Methodists on the Move, Hot Diggity Dogs, Tu Tu Believers and Stephanie’s Darlings. Even HCA Florida South Shore Hospital has a Dream Team. Currently 20 teams have signed up, and there’s still plenty of time to join one or add your own.
Church liaison Jane Keegan, who is working with Kleinschmidt on the logistics of the walk, joins the Methodists on the Move team every year.
“My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 13 years ago, and my father had dementia. They hid her symptoms as best they could,” Keegan said. “She died six years later. By the end, she had lost her appetite completely and didn’t want to see or recognize anyone. My dad died six weeks after she did.
“Thirteen years ago, I was ashamed for people to know my mother had Alzheimer’s,” Keegan said, noting back then it was stigmatized. “When I first joined the walk and made a donation, I wouldn’t accept the T-shirt, let alone wear it. I’m not proud of that, but I know better now and understand there is help available. I’m glad I’m able to do something.”
Area businesses are invited to become sponsors and have a table at the event. Levels range from $50 to $1,000. Thus far, Aston Gardens at the Courtyards is a Guardian Sponsor; Care Access is an Avenger Sponsor; Freedom Plaza and FirstLight Home Care Southern Hillsborough, Sidekick Sponsors; and Edward Jones, a National Sponsor.
So in whatever way you choose, open your heart and open your wallet in support of this urgent cause.
If you’d like to form a team, join someone else’s team, become a sponsor or simply make a tax-deductible donation, call Kim Bauer at 813-344-9213 or Jane Keegan at 813-380-4788 or visit www.alz.org/southshore/.