Taking steps to fight Alzheimer’s disease

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walkers take to the Stewart Parkway promenade during the 2011 Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair in Washington. (WDN File Photo/Julia Hurley)

Twenty-five years ago, few people spoke about Alzheimer’s disease. The public knew little about it and the stigma attached to those who exhibited the symptoms prevented them from finding out more.
Then came former President Ronald Reagan who would become the poster child for Alzheimer’s, his fame and eventual deterioration shining a bright spotlight on the disease. That light continues to shine today, especially through events like the annual Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair in Washington.
On Oct. 6, hundreds of people will make the two-mile loop from Red Men’s Lodge on East Third Street, to the Washington Civic Center, along the Stewart Parkway waterfront back to the lodge, to raise money to fund Alzheimer’s education and research. But participants also walk to remember and support loved ones who have fallen victim to a disease that has no known cause, and no known cure.
Though Emily Albera had few informational resources when her mother, Emily Padgett, was diagnosed with the disease 25 years ago, she had dedicated caregivers to help with the day-to-day living with Alzheimer’s. It was through the inspiration of Liz Wilder, Padgett’s caregiver for the last eight years of her life, that steps to fight the disease locally were taken. After Padgett’s death, Wilder motivated local forces, getting people involved, especially Albera, and putting the pieces in motion to organize Memory Walk, an event that has since evolved into the Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair.
“She woke up one day and decided she wanted to get the Memory Walk going,” said Albera. “It was good because it made me get into some positive things by helping other people.”
Wilder no longer lives in area, but Albera, co-chair of the Alzheimer’s Walk along with Donna Woolard, and volunteers from teams like “Angels for Alzheimers,” led by locals Brett Perry and Chastity Jefferson, continue Wilder’s dedication to the cause. Perry and Jefferson have planned multiple fundraisers (a bake sale, a yard sale and an upcoming chicken dinner at Red Men’s Lodge on Sept. 14) to raise money for the walk. The two walk in memory of both their grandmothers, Albera said, and their dedication is such that they’ve chosen to put off an important event until after this year’s Alzheimer’s walk — their walk down the aisle.
While individuals often take part as a way to honor loved ones, several businesses have shown enthusiastic support, Albera said. Wells Fargo and River Trace Rehabilitation have both risen to “premier” donators with gifts of $1500 to the event. Other donation tiers fall in bronze ($150), silver ($250), gold ($500) and platinum ($1000) categories, but major money isn’t required to be a part of the walk. Any student can raise $25, any adult $50, and walk away with a T-shirt, Albera explained.
October’s event is not just about fundraising, according to Albera. It’s an educational opportunity for anyone who would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s from the doctors and physical therapists of East Carolina University’s Wooten Laboratory and Brody School of Medicine. Wooten Laboratory supports research for neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s primary among them. Though part of its stated mission addresses finding answers to the molecular and cellular cause of the disease, another focuses on community awareness and promoting understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, at event like the Alzheimer’s Walk.
For Albera, it’s an opportunity to educate caregivers and let them know that the resources, and support, that were hard to come by two decades ago are close by.  Her enthusiasm for the walk has not waned over the years, but she said her role in it has changed.
“It’s not about Mother anymore,” Albera said. “It’s about all these people who feel the way I felt back then … that’s why I’m so excited about ECU and the Wooten Laboratory coming to Greenville.”