Student reflects on Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

More than 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. To better visualize the amount of people who are impacted, imagine the entire undergraduate student enrollment at Wilkes University, (approximately 2,600), and multiply that by over two thousand.

Alzheimer’s is perhaps one of the most frustrating diseases, not only for those who have the disease, but also for their family, friends and loved ones.

The rapid, degenerative nature of the disease is part of the reason why it’s such a frustrating illness, not to mention the fact that there are currently no available treatments to stop the progression.

This disease “is officially listed as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association states. It is common for people to shrug off forgetfulness and occasional memory loss due to the belief that memory loss as a natural part of aging.

The truth is, memory loss that is associated with Alzheimer’s is much bigger than forgetting a name or phone number. It gets worse when someone can’t recognize their own home, or one of their best childhood friends.

A close family friend of mine, known as Bunny, is currently in the late-stage of Alzheimer’s. She can no longer recognize her own family. From what I can remember, Bunny was once a grandmother-type figure to everyone.

Now, Bunny cannot form a coherent sentence, nor does she have the ability to perform every-day tasks independently.

Unfortunately, her family was faced with difficult decisions after she was diagnosed.

During the early stages, families usually choose to provide in-home care for their loved ones so that they can feel comfortable with their surroundings and enjoy their independence.

As the illness progresses, brain cells are failing and eventually, dying. The unfortunate truth is that a cure has not yet been discovered, nor are there any guaranteed ways to prevent the disease.

Although there has been extensive research done, the only results so far are treatments and medications that are only capable of slowing down the worsening of the symptoms or ‘temporarily’ improving their quality of life.

September is World Alzheimer’s month. More specifically, Sept. 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. World Alzheimer’s Month is an international campaign; every September the goal is to raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with the disease.

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is celebrated during the whole month of November.

Bunny’s story has inspired many of her loved ones, including me, to create a team and to raise money and awareness for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The walk is run by  non-profit Alzheimer’s Association.

We have participated in the walk for the past several years with the team name, “Bouncing for Bunny.” This year there is a walk being held on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the local PNC Field.

The support and energy at the event is unexplainable. Upon signing in, you are greeted by beautiful souls who not only donate money toward finding a cure, they believe it is possible.

The walk was originally called the Memory Walk, which began in 1989. The Memory Walk started with only 1,249 participants who raised a total of $149,000. By 2015 there were more than 50,000 teams who raised more than $75 million.

The money that is raised for the walk is split up into three areas: 79 percent goes toward providing care and support to all those who are affected by or facing Alzheimer’s. Fifteen percent of the money raised is used for fundraising and the remaining six percent is used for recruiting and training more advocates to continue spreading the word, the Alzheimer’s Association says.

Chances are, someone who reads this will know someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is a disease that changes lives and impacts more than just the person with the disease.

September is World Alzheimer’s month and November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. Believe in the cure and spread the word!