By Kim Walter - firstname.lastname@example.org
This Saturday, community members are invited to participate in the area's first "Walk to End Alzheimer's" in Winchester.
The Alzheimer's Association National Capital Area Chapter, which covers Washington D.C., southern Maryland and Northern Virginia, originally had plans to host a walk in the Shenandoah Valley next year, but Abigail Reinecker, senior manager of constituent events, said local volunteers couldn't wait that long.
"The folks here were just so excited and eager to make this happen because they saw walks in the area for other charities," she said. "They felt that, in particular, this cause and awareness is kind of being neglected."
Reinecker said the volunteers are mostly health care professionals who deal with Alzheimer's and dementia patients on a daily basis.
"Whether or not these volunteers have a personal connection to the disease, they see it every day, and they realized that family members need the education and access to resources that will help in their caregiver journey," she said.
Cindy Schelhorn, director of communication and marketing, said the stigma surrounding the disease is part of the reason it doesn't get much attention.
"There are 5.4 million Americans who have dementia, and over 15 million family and friends who provide their unpaid care," she said. "One in four of those with the disease hide the diagnosis because of the shame and fear that comes with it."
Schelhorn said she was 15 years old when her father was diagnosed with a form of dementia. She remembers how her mother struggled to find answers and support 30 years ago when much less information was available. Her mother started the first support group in Harrisonburg.
"I know firsthand how hungry people are for the support and education," she said. "Awareness is key."
The walk will kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, with walk-in registration and check-in beginning at 8:30 a.m. A short presentation will take place at 9:30 a.m., and the walk will start at The Willows at Meadow Branch. Participants can choose to walk a one- or three-mile course, Reinecker said, and the walk as a whole is "community- and family- friendly."
Refreshments will be provided, and walkers who raise $100 or more will receive a Walk to End Alzheimer's T-shirt. So far, a little more than 100 people are registered, but Reinecker said she wouldn't be surprised if 200 residents showed up.
Those on the executive planning committee for the walk set a fundraising goal of $15,000, and will have until the end of November to reach it. As of Wednesday, $11,213 has been collected.
Funds will go toward educational, emotional and financial support for caregivers, in the form of one-on-one consultations, group meetings or online classes.
"This group has already shown a lot of promise and potential, and it's exciting to think about what they could accomplish through future walks," Reinecker said, and added that the walk is open to anyone, no matter the connection to Alzheimer's.
"Hopefully this will let those affected know they are not alone, and we are a resource for them," she said. "More people means more voices, and I hope this walk illustrates why we do what we do and how important this cause is."
For more information on Alzheimer's disease or to register for the walk, go to alz.org/nca or call 703-359-4440. The Alzheimer's Association also provides a 24/7 help line for those with questions or concerns, and can be reached at 800-272-3900.