On Sept. 24 at approximately 8:15 a.m., a group of determined people will begin a two-mile walk at The Avenue on Medical Center Parkway. They are walking to raise money for research and awareness of Alzheimer’s. Registration begins at 7 a.m., there will be snacks provided and some warm up exercises before the walk begins. Although the reason for being there is very serious, the walk is always a festive gathering, with camaraderie and brotherhood of those dedicated to ending this disease. This walk and fund raisers like it, go on in all 50 states and there are several across Tennessee. The funding is needed for research into the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, the development of medications to slow down the progression of the disease and eventually, a cure.
Today, there are 5.4 million Americans living with this life stealing disease. It’s life stealing because it kills slowly and robs it’s victims of the basic functions of life. In fact, in the early stages it can be hard to notice, but as it progresses, it steals the quality of life from its victims. Alzheimer’s attacks the brain and impairs its functions to the point of death. Alzheimer’s takes away all of the things that make a person who they are, the thoughts, memories or the ability to recognize family. It not only takes it away, it takes it away slowly, causing much suffering for the victim and the family that has to watch it.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and it is the only one in the top ten causes that can’t be prevented . . . yet. If you think this may not be that big of a problem or does not have a direct effect on you, think about this: There are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion. Facts and Figures find that caregivers not only suffer emotionally but also physically. Because of the toll of care giving on their own health, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $7.9 billion in additional health care costs in 2010. More than 60 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress because of the prolonged duration of care giving and 33 percent report symptoms of depression. The eradication of this disease would free up enormous recourses in the health care industry.
Alzheimer’s costs this nation $183 billion annually. Since 2000, all rates of the leading causes of deaths in the U.S has dropped, except Alzheimer’s, which has risen 66 percent. Every 69 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s.
The best measuring stick for the impact of Alzheimer’s is in those that it has affected. Tammy Ogles has been participating in the Alzheimer’s walk for 6 years. In 2004 her grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and she minces no words with her description of this disease.
“It is a demon that steals people’s memories, they go from knowing everything they have always known to be being a non-person that is still living. They don’t know who they are, in the latter stages they are almost in a vegetative state, they can’t walk, they can’t talk they can’t feed themselves and it’s a really undignified way to go,” she said.
Tammy is captain of two teams that participate in the walk, The Eastern Stars and Team Golden Memory. The Murfreesboro Eastern Stars are aligned with the Masonic order and the Alzheimer’s walk team consists of about 15 people. Tammy sights the memory of Icey Mae Nelms as her inspiration on this team. Her other team is named in honor of her grandmother, Golden Hill. Tammy watched her suffer through all the stages of Alzheimer’s.
“My grandmother had the cleanest house on the planet when we were children. I think it was my mother that first noticing a little dust on the furniture. One day while out walking, she fell and after that it was never the same.”
It is common for Alzheimer patients to progress between stages with a traumatic event or physical injury.
“After the fall she was noticeably different and had to have in-home care. When her condition worsened, she went to the Stones River Center, a glorious place for Alzheimer’s patients. The staff was incredibly kind to her and they took very good care of her. The disease progressed to the point, were she could barely walk and when she would smile at me, I knew that she knew me but couldn’t remember my name. We had to move her to Community Care when her condition worsened. She had now completely lost the ability to walk and was confined a wheel chair and was eventually confined to a bed. She spent about two years at Stones River and her last two years at Community Care.”
Since her death, Tammy has honored her memory by organizing teams and participating in the walk.
“My grandmother’s first name was Golden, so I named the team, Golden Memory,” Tammy said.
Along with the other team, they walk in honor of Golden Hill, Icey Mae Nelms and all those that suffer because of this terrible disease. When Tammy spoke of her grandmother or Ms. Nelms her voiced became strained, you could see the emotion in her face and feel the pain she has felt because of Alzheimer’s.
“Both of them were strong, determined women and it hurts your feelings to see this happen to them. Not only that but, Alzheimer’s has a genetic component so I have vested interest in this because I don’t want my mother to go through this and I don’t want to go through it.”
After a second of reflection, Tammy summed up Alzheimer’s like this: “It steals memories, so you have to think of it in these terms, how would it feel to you to look into the eyes of a person you love and know they can’t remember you? That’s why we have to fix this disease.”
Information on Alzheimer’s cited in this article is from The Alzheimer’s Association website, alz.org. For more information on Alzheimer’s, visit the site or call (800) 272-3900.