A corner of Applegate Park was painted purple last weekend for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease.
Hundreds of people turned out for the event on Saturday morning, when the sun was still low in the sky and the weather was cool and comfortable.
They were friends and family of Alzheimer’s victims, carers and survivors themselves, each holding a colored paper flower as is customary for the awareness campaign each October. Orange for those who support the cause, yellow for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, blue for someone who has it, and purple for those who have lost someone to the disease .
After a brief opening ceremony, the teams of participants gathered at the starting line before setting off on the footpath along Bear Creek. Some did a two-mile loop around the creek, while others did a one-mile route. And some were in wheelchairs, like Doris Fleitz. She was pushed by her friends Debbie Shamblin and Glenda Farris, who carefully guided her through the many cracks and bumps in the asphalt. Doris does not have Alzheimer’s disease, she said, but she does have a cognitive brain disorder that prevents her from walking, and she wanted to support the cause. Shamblin’s mother and her mother’s three siblings had Alzheimer’s disease, she said, and they all died within a month of each other. This is the second year that the women have taken part in the march.
“If you don’t have the people, you’re not going anywhere,” Farris said. “The more people who come and help support, the better.”
About 45 minutes later, the first walkers arrived at the finish line. Volunteers lined the path, waving and cheering as people took the final steps and passed under the large purple archway. In total, the event raised $73,000, or about 86% of the $85,000 goal. About 48 teams participated this year.
About 3,500 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in Merced County, according to event organizer Denise Glassett. Nationally, more than 6 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in America. COVID was responsible for a 17% increase in deaths related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Many seniors who have it don’t even know they have it, which is why a lot of the annual walks focus on educating people about the signs and symptoms.
Memory loss that interferes with daily life is a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease and often occurs in the early stages of the disease. Other common signs include mistakes in managing household affairs, such as paying bills and difficulty performing familiar tasks. The Alzheimer’s Association has resources on its website, alz.org, to help people determine if they have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
There is also a 24/7 helpline that can be reached at 800-272-3900.