When hundreds of walkers gather Sunday at North Central College's Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium near downtown Naperville for the Alzheimer's Association Walk to End Alzheimer's, they'll be part of the largest event in the nation aimed at raising awareness and money for care, support and research into the disease that claims so many.
Beginning in 1989, the Alzheimer's Association has mobilized millions of Americans to participate in walks and other efforts to combat the disease that is now the nation's sixth-leading cause of death.
If you goWhat: Walk to End Alzheimer's
Why: Proceeds support the Alzheimer's Association
When: Check-in and activities begin at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22; walk steps off at 10 a.m.
Where: North Central College's Bendetti-Wehril Stadium, 455 S. Brainard St., Naperville
Cost: Donations encouraged, $25 minimum suggested donation
Check-in festivities will begin at 8 a.m. at the stadium, 455 S. Brainard St., and walkers will step off at 10 a.m. on a 3-mile hike. Participants will learn more about the disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical trial enrollment and support programs and services. Each walker also will join in a tribute ceremony to honor those affected by the disease.
The association is the world's leading voluntary health organization combating Alzheimer's. Its mission is to eliminate the disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
Today, two people who are participating in Sunday's event tell us why they're walking.
Frances Fleming, Downers Grove
In 1993, I was 34 years old and eight months pregnant with my third daughter when I sat down with my parents and confronted them with the observation that something was wrong with Mom.
My mother, Julia Imber, reacted by saying she was fine, 100 percent in control. My dad reacted by breaking down in tears. Finally, someone else had noticed the changes in Mom's behavior and cognitive abilities. As I look back, I think he had been covering for her for two to three years.
This was the beginning of a journey that robbed my parents of their retirement dreams, that robbed my father of the love and companionship of his wife, that robbed my children of the doting, loving woman who couldn't wait to be their grandmother, that robbed me of a mother's guidance and the wisdom of her experience. We made the appointments; we received the diagnosis -- DAT -- a dementia of the Alzheimer's type.
My mom's journey ended in September 2000. It was only after her death that my oldest daughter, then just 13, asked if we could walk "for Grandma." We sent a letter to a few of our family and neighbors asking them to support us. In that first year we raised nearly $1,000.
Now our participation is a family tradition. My husband and each of our children, their boyfriends and the dog are all committed to walking with me. My family, friends and co-workers still support our efforts and generously contribute to the walk.
Those of us who have watched a loved one suffer from dementia understand the phrase "it takes a village" as we turn to friends and family, doctors, spiritual advisers, nurses and nursing home staff to help us take care of our loved ones who suffer from the disease.
It is important to me to support our caregivers and to raise funds that will enable researchers to better understand the disease and someday cure it.
We've reached the point where we're starting to see regular stories in the media about new medical advances, new drug therapies and clinical trials for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's and related diseases.
When I read those stories, I know my efforts and those of friends and family members who have supported me -- and the efforts of thousands like me -- have helped medical researchers in their quest to eliminate Alzheimer's.
My early experience with Alzheimer's as a caregiver has evolved from a defensive, reactive gesture to an affirming, supportive initiative. I am able to channel my appreciation for the community of care and concern that helped me take care of my mom into a vital, active purpose that reaches beyond my personal experience and speaks to and supports the experiences of people I don't know and probably won't ever meet.
My prayer is for a world without Alzheimer's disease, and this is why I walk.
Brittany Krause, Woodridge
In 2008, I wasn't very active in Alzheimer's advocacy. I raised my $100, walked and went home. In 2009, I did the same thing as the year before; I walked without too much commitment.
In 2010, I was on the organizational committee to help plan the events at the Walk to End Alzheimer's in Naperville. My whole family and many friends joined me that year as well. Friends who had watched what I went through with my grandma, Patricia.
My journey with Alzheimer's started in 2006. I watched as what was to be a normal day turned into a life-changing day. My grandpa, along with my dad, asked me, "Would you like to start watching your grandma during the days while I'm here at work?"
Very quickly I responded, "Yes!"
Little did I know how challenging this task would prove to be. When I agreed to care of my grandma, Patricia Krause, I did not know she could no longer drive or that she could no longer be left alone. Soon I learned what Alzheimer's was and what my life was going to be like.
At the time, we still were able to do normal things such as go to doctors' appointments, get our nails done and, most importantly, go shopping.
Many years later these things changed. We were no longer able to go out for long periods of time, as she would miss her husband. She would even say that she wanted to return "home" when we were already there. With the help of my grandpa and most of my family, I was able to keep my grandma at home, where she died peacefully in March 2010.
It was a blessing to be able to stay with her for five years. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.
The Walk to End Alzheimer's is a great way to honor my grandma. I walk for her. Each year my goal is to get one more person to join our team. This year, our team will be composed of mostly family and two new people from a Facebook support group called Forget Me Not.
Each and every year, we walk to raise money to end Alzheimer's. This will be my sixth year participating.
I want to thank each and every family member, friend and co-worker who each raised $100, earning them a Walk to End Alzheimer's T-shirt so they can promote their commitment to the cause. This walk is successful each year for me because of all of you.