Jacksonville Alzheimer’s Walk raises money, awareness for families battling nation’s sixth leading cause of death


More than 2,000 walkers reaffirmed their commitment to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease Nov. 19, when the Alzheimer’s Association hosted its annual fundraising walk in Jacksonville.

One of 600 walks nationwide, the Jacksonville event raised more than $233,000 that will not only provide free support services in the local community, but also fund the research needed to find a cure.

“Some of the most promising science may come from our own back yard,” said Michelle Branham, vice president of communications for the Jacksonville Alzheimer’s Association chapter. “Mayo and other top research facilities in Florida are dedicated to tackling this disease from all angles, including preventions, treatments and one day, a cure. We know the quickest way to the cure is through research.”

Currently, more than 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease; 520,000 of those residents live in Florida, with more than 31,000 people located in Northeast Florida. That makes Alzheimer’s not just the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but also a major Sunshine State health crisis, Branham said.

“These numbers sound staggering – they are staggering,” she said. “Part of the overwhelming feeling about a disease like Alzheimer’s is that we haven’t been able to completely claim it yet. We aren’t getting early diagnoses from our doctors; we aren’t paying attention to warning signs; we aren’t listening to the growing number of alarming facts. We are still dismissing Alzheimer’s as memory loss or regular aging.”

Dr. Rosemary Laird, a geriatrician and the executive medical director of the Florida Hospital Senior Program, specializes in Alzheimer’s and related dementias. She said that contrary to popular opinion, people aren’t supposed to change all that much as we age.

“We will of course, slow down physically and cognitively,” Laird said. “For some, these age-related changes won’t be a big problem. For others, a disease like Alzheimer’s strikes a blow to a person’s entire being. We aren’t supposed to forget our children and loved ones. We aren’t supposed to lose who we are, yet this terrible disease takes all that away.”

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan called Alzheimer’s “the long, long goodbye” because her family battled the disease with President Reagan for so many years. Another First Lady, Rosalynn Carter, put the impact of long, fatal illnesses to our families into an even more sobering perspective.

“There are only four kinds of people in this world,” Carter said, “those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who need caregivers.”

Because of its extended course, experts say, Alzheimer’s is one of the most expensive disease our country has ever faced. And because of the heavy toll it takes on family members and caregivers, support services are even more important.

“There are 15 Alzheimer’s Support Groups in the Jacksonville Area,” Alzheimer’s Associate Director of Programs Cari Eyre said. “We have support groups, educational programs like Caregiver College and a 24/7 Helpline (1-800-272-3900) manned by dementia specialists.”

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, she added.

“Our Helpline calls double and triple from Thanksgiving through the New Year,” she said.

To provide additional help, the Central and North Florida Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has created a holiday-themed video series with tips and information available on alz.org/cnfl.

Alzheimer’s Association experts urge families to take advantage of the free support throughout the holidays, and whenever need arises.

“We may not have the scientific answers today,” Alzheimer’s Association Chapter CEO Kay Redington said, “so until the time we realize preventions, treatment and a cure, we will be supporting the families that need us now more than ever.”