Each September, hundreds of area residents gather at Chautauqua Institution to join in solidarity for the common cause of walking to end the most common form of dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association of Western New York's annual Walk To End Alzheimer's is set for Saturday, Sept. 7., beginning with registration at 9 a.m. at the Turner Community Center. The opening ceremony and walk will begin at 10 a.m. The opening ceremony will be held at the DJ tent, and the walk will begin at the start banner. Following the walk, other activities including drawings and refreshments will be held.
In addition to walking, each participant is given a flower to be placed in the Promise Garden, which is a garden comprised of vinyl pinwheel flowers of four different colors that represent each individual's reason to walk. Purple flowers represent the loss of a loved one, orange is for general support of the Alzheimer's Association's mission, yellow is for a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, and blue is for those with the disease. Each walker can also write a message or name of a loved one on the flower before it is planted. Following the event, walkers may take their flower home.
A group of walkers are shown during the 2012 Walk To End Alzheimer’s at Chautauqua Institution.
According to Lynn Westcott, director of development for the Alzheimer's Association of Western New York, the walks have been held since the 1980s for the purpose of putting an end to the disease.
"There are more than 50,000 people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease throughout Western New York," Westcott said. "But, just as important is that for every person that is diagnosed with the disease, there are three more people who are caring for that person - and it's the kind of disease that requires 24/7 care. So, overall we're trying to help about 220,000 people throughout Western New York."
One of the ways in which the organization works toward the goal of ending the disease is by providing programs and services to the community. The walk itself serves as a means to raise funds for the programs and services the Alzheimer's Association offers.
"The walk is fun, it's easy and is a really meaningful morning - and there's no charge to attend the walk," Westcott said. "It's a feel good event where people come to honor those who have passed from the disease, those suffering and the caregivers. We also have people in the community who are advocates for the disease who aren't affected by it personally, but see how devastating it can be. It's a great community event."
In addition to acting as a community building event and furnished, the walk serves as a means to raise awareness about the disease itself.
"The walk reminds people that there are others in the community who are dealing with the disease and all the same issues," Westcott said. "It also really makes people feel good to know that they have contributed. And, it reminds people that we at the Alzheimer's Association are there. If you have questions, or problems, and you need to talk to someone the Alzheimer's Association is there any time, day or night."
There are two routes that participants can choose from for the walk around the Chautauqua Institution grounds. One route is a mile, and cuts the 2-mile route in half. A program guide, which features a map, will be provided for participants.
"You get to see all the beauty in that area," Westcott said. "Although the event is free and open to everyone, we do encourage fundraising. But, if people can't do that and they just want to be part of the day or take a peek at the Chautauqua Institution then they can do that."
Registration can also be completed by visiting alz.org/wny. For more information, call 800-272-3900.
According to an Alzheimer's Association press release, across Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, it's estimated there are more than 7,500 people who have the disease, with another 22,000 providing some kind of care for them.
The family of the late Nancy (Littlejohns) George of Olean, acted as caregivers to Nancy as her battle with the disease progressed. Nancy's family has been walking in her honor for nearly 10 years under the team name "Nancy's Girls," which is what Nancy called the group, said her granddaughter Elizabeth Galeazzo. Galeazzo hopes the walk accomplishes more awareness for the disease, which can affect anyone. She also feels that the group acts as support for her and her family.
"We've made it into a family weekend that we all spend together," Higgins said.
According to Nanette Higgins, one of Nancy's four daughters, Nancy would be delighted to see so many people walking to end Alzheimer's because of how isolating the disease is. For Higgins, the event has acted as a means of receiving and giving support.
Ann McIntyre, another of Nancy's daughters, also felt that it was particularly helpful being able to connect with others in the county who were dealing with the disease.
In addition to Higgins, Galeazzo and McIntyre, Nancy's Girls are joined on the Walk each year by another dozen family members. Higgins, Galeazzo and McIntyre are also members of the the Alzheimer's Association's Walk To End Alzheimer's planning committee.
A portion of the money raised during the Walk To End Alzheimer's goes to the national Alzheimer's Association, which helps fund research to find an end to the disease. But, much of it also stays local to help fund programs and services offered by the Alzheimer's Association to the people of the Western New York community.
The programs and services the organization offers run the gamut of needs presented by those suffering from the disease and their caregivers.
According to Leslie Kennedy, program director, one example is the organization's ability to offer care consultations, which can be done in-person at the chapter or via a helpline by calling 800-272-3900.
"Anyone can call us at any time to speak with a professional care consultant about whatever their situation is," Kennedy said. "Through that service they learn about support groups and education classes that we may be offering in their local community. We can also teach them how to use our e-services so they can go on navigator and find what local resources are right in their community. So, we link them with their local adult day care and skilled nursing facilities. It's like having a social worker that you don't have to go find. Don't wait until it's crisis, call us when a behavior starts and call us when you don't know what to do next."
For the Alzheimer's Association, care consultations act as a springboard to get area residents connected. Once people are aware of the programs and services they are likely to attend them, Kennedy said.
"Right now we have three support groups running in Chautauqua County, which is really great because we had one support group last year," Kennedy said. "The need for it is there, and they are all very well-attended. We space them out throughout the month so if someone is in crisis or having a bad week, there is a group in Chautauqua County that they can come to."
In addition to the two educational seminars held during the year, the Alzheimer's Association also hosts a webinar class series once a month. It also hosts early stage programming, which is for individuals who were recently diagnosed, and a living with series to teach people what will come next in the disease.
For more information, visit alz.org/wny.