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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Raising money and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease one step at a time

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When Anita Gaillard’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, she got straight to work.  At the time, a friend of hers worked for the Indiana Alzheimer’s Association, so Gaillard sought out advice from her friend. From there, Gaillard attended the local annual conference the association holds, that was her official introduction to the organization. 

Slowly, Gaillard began attending events, participating in fundraisers and telling anyone she could about the Central Indiana chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. In 2008, she assembled a team for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in downtown Indianapolis. 

“We treated it like a party,” she recalled. “We had food and music playing. We were cheering and just trying to be positive and excited about the event.” 

Gaillard and her family will participate in their 10th walk on Oct. 6. She also serves on the Greater Indiana Chapter’s board of directors as the chair of the public policy committee. 

The Greater Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has held its annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser for more than two decades. The chapter raised more than $825,000 last year and wants to raise $950,000 at this year’s walk. 

Alzheimer’s, a brain disease, usually diagnosed later in life causes mental deterioration over time. Although the disease was first discovered in the early 20th century, it still is not clear what causes the disease and there is currently no cure. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the country; families affected will spend an estimated $227 billion on the disease this year alone. Nationally, more than 5.7 million adults are living with the disease. In Indiana, 110,000 Hoosiers are living with the disease and 338,000 people are providing unpaid care for a loved one with the disease. 

It’s these numbers that drive the Alzheimer’s Association to not just focus on those with the disease, but also provide resources for caretakers, community education and finding a cure. Volunteers spend time with Congress in Washington, D.C., to lobby for more funding toward the disease in order to find solutions that slow or even eradicate Alzheimer’s. The organization is able to make this possible through generous donations and volunteers.

For more than two decades Ralph and Mollie Richards have been volunteering for the association in Indianapolis and in Rochester, New York. They’ve especially focused their volunteer efforts on African-American communities. It’s estimated that African-Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s twice as much as Caucasians. 

“We know that people who are diabetic and untreated have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s, smokers and people with high blood pressure are likely to be diagnosed,” Ralph explained.

These are diseases that affect Black people at higher rates, which could explain why Alzheimer’s also affects this population in greater numbers. Ralph goes on to say that people who have sleep apnea tend to be diagnosed with the disease as well because it taxes the heart, which damages the brain too.

While living in Rochester, the Richardses began a program with their church Mount Olivette Baptist where they’d travel to other churches and give a presentation about Alzheimer’s disease, the early warning signs and how to seek care. Since moving to Indianapolis, they’ve been able to keep the ministry going through Eastern Star Church.

“If we don’t do something about this epidemic, we will bankrupt the entire healthcare system,” Ralph said. “So many caregivers are depressed, they’re suicidal, they need help. We think churches are a great place to start, that’s why we do this work.”

The walk isn’t the only way to get involved, the Greater Indiana chapter holds events weekly for families whose loved ones are at all stages of the disease. This includes in-person support groups and online chatrooms. The association also has a 24/7 hotline staffed by professionals who can answer any questions callers may have. These tools are what Gaillard believes helped her mom live with the disease for 15 years before passing away in 2016.

“The association helped us anticipate what might happen with our mom,” she said. “Because of that info we weren’t devastated. We were told what might happen and when it did, we were able to point to what might happen next.”

For those with a loved one suffering from the disease Gaillard and the Richardses encourage getting involved and asking for help no matter what stage of the disease your loved one may be at. 

“A lot of times as African-Americans we live in isolation, or we don’t trust people easily, or we assume grandma is just senile,” Gillard said. “I want to be able to tell other families about the association so they can get the help they need. Even if you don’t take the advice, it’s important to know the information so that you can make good decisions around the disease.”

Walk to End Alzheimer’s

When: Oct. 6. Registration begins at 9 a.m. Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m., and the walk will start immediately afterward.

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 125 S. Pennsylvania St.

Register: alz.org/Indiana/walk

Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 hotline: 800-272-3900

Alzheimer’s Disease

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