Bonded by mem­ory, walk­ers fight­ing Alzheimer’s

Satur­day’s event one of three planned in So. Md.

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

Ev­ery 66 sec­onds, an Amer­i­can de­vel­ops Alzheimer’s disease, a pro­gres­sive, non-cur­able brain dis­or­der that grad­u­ally de­stroys a per­son’s mem­ory and think­ing skills.

The disease par­tic­u­larly af­fects the older pop­u­la­tion, but its rip­ple ef­fect of­ten cov­ers gen­er­a­tions within fam­i­lies and cir­cles of friends.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a na­tion­wide event or­ga­nized by the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion to raise aware­ness and funds to sup­port the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sup­port and re­search mis­sions. Res­i­dents in this area can par­tic­i­pate in the walk this Satur­day in Solomons, or Oxon Hill on Sept. 23, or La Plata on Sept. 30. To­mor­row’s walk be­gins at 10 a.m. at As­bury Solomons Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity. Reg­is­tra­tion starts at 8:30 a.m., and there will be an open­ing cer­e­mony at 9:30.

Mary Ann Bean’s 9-year-old grandson, Randy Bean, still re­mem­bers Mar­garet Cooper, his

great-grand­mother. Cooper lived with Alzheimer’s for 12 years be­fore she died in 2014.

Start­ing when he was a tod­dler in a stroller, Randy has par­tic­i­pate in the walk with Mary Ann ev­ery year. In re­cent years, he would take the pur­ple prom­ise flower home and put it in his home yard in Cal­i­for­nia.

Her mother didn’t know who Randy was, Mary Ann said. But peo­ple with her con­di­tions love ba­bies and “she loved to see his face.”

Al­though Cooper couldn’t re­mem­ber, her fam­ily’s mem­ory of her con­tin­ues.

Mary Ann’s son, Joe Bean, for ex­am­ple, re­mem­bers Cooper squirt­ing ic­ing into his mouth when she dec­o­rated cakes. He was about 10 years old and “he thought it was the coolest thing,” Mary Ann said.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing a loved one los­ing his or her mem­ory is be­yond dev­as­tat­ing.

“Your par­ent is phys­i­cally there, but men­tally they are way back in time,” Mary Ann said.

Her friend, Michelle John­son of Great Mills, had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with her own mother.

“Los­ing a mother was never easy, but los­ing her be­fore she died was even worse,” John­son said. “She did not know me at the end; she did not rec­og­nize me.”

John­son’s mother, Car­rie Abrams, died of a type of de­men­tia in 2002.

What both­ered John­son the most was that to­ward the end her mother “was alone and afraid be­cause she didn’t know any­one any­more,” she said, chok- ing up as she spoke. “My mother felt alone, but she wasn’t.”

Mary Ann Bean and John­son wear their Alzheimer’s Walk T-shirts ev­ery Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day — their gym days.

“We are walk­ing ad­ver­tise­ments,” John­son said. “Peo­ple ask us ques­tions all the time.”

On Wed­nes­day, a cou­ple they met at Pan­era Bread asked them about the shirt. After learn­ing about the walk that will be held in Solomons Satur­day, Bean said the hus­band, whose mother has Alzheimer’s, wanted to know if he could take his mother to the walk. They told him that he could and di­rected him to the as­so­ci­a­tion’s web­site.

The walk in Solomons last year saw 361 walk­ers and raised more than $65,000, ac­cord­ing to Dennis Porem­ski, di­rec­tor of well­ness at As­bury Solomons and the host­ing co­or­di­na­tor of the event.

Porem­ski said over the years he saw that the is­sue has come into pub­lic con­scious­ness more than be­fore.

“We are start­ing to re­al­ize how se­ri­ous it is,” he said, not­ing that the im­pacts on care­givers, com­mu­ni­ties, health care sys­tems and the so­ci­ety at large have been huge.

Sheila Zat­tau of La Plata and her sis­ter, Pen­nie Drinkard, of Fort Wash­ing­ton have seen the size of the walk’s crowd in­crease over the years.

On one hand, they are en­cour­aged to see the in­creased sup­port and com­mit­ment for the cause. On the other hand, they re­al­ize that more and more peo­ple are af­fected by it.

Their fa­ther, Neal “Hand­some” Drinkard, was di­ag­nosed with early on­set Alzheimer’s in his mid-50s. He died in 2010 at the age of 72 after liv­ing with the disease for about 15 years.

“My dad was al­ways telling ev­ery­body to call him ‘Hand­some,’” Drinkard said with a laugh. “He would say: ‘ My name is Neal. But you can call me ‘Hand­some.’”

Zat­tau’s first walk was only about her fa­ther. Later, the sis­ters and their fam­i­lies met peo­ple with sim­i­lar sto­ries and some­times saw the same group of peo­ple from year to year.

“As years go by, it’s not just a per­sonal thing for me any­more,” Zat­tau said.

Nowa­days, ev­ery­body prob­a­bly knew or lost some­one to Alzheimer’s, or both, Drinkard said. The walk “gives peo­ple that sense of com­mu­nity” and tells the care­givers that they are not alone, she said.

Jeanette Fin­ley, who lives in As­bury Solomons and fa­cil­i­tates a care­giver sup­port group in Prince Fred­er­ick, sees the im­pact of Alzheimer’s and other forms of de­men­tia ev­ery day.

About a cou­ple of years ago, the Calvert li­brary in Prince Fred­er­ick hosted a screen­ing of “Still Alice,” a film chron­i­cling a renowned lin­guis­tics pro­fes­sor’s jour­ney after she was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s.

“There was just this in­ter­est and a sense of lack of sup­port for care­givers who are deal­ing with folks with de­men­tia,” she said.

As a mem­ber of Calvert’s com­mis­sion on ag­ing, Fin­ley said she saw “a cry­ing need” for more sup­port for those who have the disease and the care­givers.

The walk is im­por­tant, she said, be­cause it raises money for the as­so­ci­a­tion which goes to fund re­search and ad­vo­cacy for the cause.

“It’s not just a stroll in the park,” Fin­ley said. “It has a pur­pose.”

Other than par­tic­i­pat­ing in the walk, some are also rais­ing funds in their own way.

Leilani McA­dams of Fort Wash­ing­ton has or­ga­nized, hosted and per­formed in an an­nual ben­e­fit con­cert called “A Gift to Re­mem­ber” since 2014 in honor of her grand­mother Al­lie Mae McA­dams who died of Alzheimer’s about two years ago.

“It’s a way that I can con­trib­ute to the cause,” the 15-year-old said. It’s also her way to “give back to those who have lost their mem­o­ries,” she said.

The idea of the start­ing the con­cert orig­i­nated from an es­say Leilani McA­dams wrote when she was in the sixth grade four years ago. Asked to write about a cause and what they could do to help ad­vanc­ing the cause, she wrote about start­ing a ben­e­fit con­cert to raise money to fight against Alzheimer’s.

When she brought the es­say home, her fa­ther Steven McA­dams said he was “sur­prised that she even thought of it.”

In­stead of see­ing it as a mere class as­sign­ment, she took ac­tion and made it hap­pen, her fa­ther said. “It was em­pow­er­ing,” and he was “very proud.”

On walk day, walk­ers can pick a color that rep­re­sents the per­son’s con­nec­tion to the disease. Yel­low means some­one is sup­port­ing or car­ing for some­one with Alzheimer’s. Pur­ple sug­gests some­one has lost a loved one to the disease.

After los­ing Frances Rosch over the sum­mer to the disease, the Rosch fam­ily will have to change from pick­ing yel­low to pur­ple.

“It will be hard,” said Sarah Rosch, Frances Rosch’s grand­daugh­ter. “I think it will be emo­tional for me.”

Be­fore she passed away, Frances Rosch par­tic­i­pated in the walk with her fam­ily in the past two years. Sarah Rosch said to con­tinue the walk is im­por­tant be­cause the cause is big­ger than her fam­ily.

“Even though it’s not go­ing to be ben­e­fit Granny,” the money raised may fund re­search and cre­ate re­sources that could help oth­ers, she said.

The walk is a one-day event. But the im­pact of the disease con­tin­ues ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery sin­gle day for those af­fected by it.

“We don’t want peo­ple to forget; it’s an all year thing,” Mary Ann Bean said.

Be­fore her mother passed away, Mary Ann talked to her ev­ery day. After Cooper moved into the St. Mary’s nurs­ing cen­ter, she went to visit her ev­ery day. To this day, there were mo­ments she would think to her­self that it’s time “to call Mom or go see Mom,” only to be fol­lowed with the re­al­iza­tion that her mother is not there any­more.

“I re­ally miss my mom; I feel the loss of her; I also feel the strength of her,” Mary Ann said, describing how she felt when she walked amongst the crowd at pre­vi­ous events.

For her, the even­tual goal is to find a cure so no one else has to go through what she went through — her own mother not know­ing who she was.

Her friend John­son said the walk made her feel less fear­ful. Her fam­ily on both sides have been di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s and other types of de­men­tia, and she was wor­ried that it would hap­pen to her.

After see­ing the in­creas­ing sup­port and aware­ness cen­tered on the disease, the walk says to her that “this is not my fu­ture,” she said.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the walk, visit https://act.alz.org/site/SPageServer?pa­ge­name=walk_ home­page.

STAFF PHOTO BY SARA NEW­MAN

Sarah Rosch, left, Elayne Rosch, Frances “Granny” Rosch, Rick Rosch and Kathryn Phillips walk dur­ing the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event in Solomons in 2015. Frances Rosch died earlier this sum­mer.

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