Lizzy the Lizard, the mascot for the New Mexico Alzheimer’s Association, gives out high-fives at the start of the 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer’s outside the Chaves County Courthouse, Saturday morning. (Noah Vernau Photo)
The 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer’s joined friends, family and co-workers Saturday in the movement to end a disease that affects 5.4 million people in the United States and is currently the 6th leading cause of death.
The 4K walk, which began at the Chaves County Courthouse lawn and continued to 19th Street, raised both awareness and funds in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
Priscilla Lujan, southeastern regional manager with New Mexico Alzheimer’s Association, said 38,000 people of all ages are affected by Alzheimer’s in New Mexico. She said a big part of the awareness efforts is how the disease affects both the sufferer and the family.
“It takes a tremendous toll on the family because they’re responsible for the care of their loved ones,” Lujan said. “It affects their life in every way — the financial aspect, the personal; even demographics: where they live, and how they have to move in sometimes to take care of a loved one. So it’s just very important to come out and show your support.
“It’s a disease that has been around forever but we really need to raise awareness, to realize that it is a terminal disease at this time. There’s no cure for it; there’s not a specific limit of how long this disease will last, and that’s the hard part. You just don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Round Rock, Texas, resident Stan Heston attended Saturday’s walk in memory of his grandmother who passed away from the disease a few years ago. Heston, who grew up in Roswell, said very little was known about the disease when his grandmother was in its early stages.
“We didn’t know that my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. We didn’t find out until the later stages,” Heston said. “It’s important to raise awareness because there are a lot of people out there who don’t know they have it or don’t know that it’s in the family, and they might assume that it’s something different. … When I was growing up, my grandfather used to call it ‘Old Timers.’ And whether it’s dementia or just a loss of memory over time, it was a mystery at that time. But they’ve discovered more and more how it’s related to a specific type of disease, and it’s really enlightening to know that they’re identifying the issue and work for a cure.”
Heston said seeing everybody out in the fight against this epidemic is always encouraging. “It’s a good start. I certainly hope that advances in medicine can identify the genes that cause this, since it is an inheritable disease. Time will tell. It’s just like any other fatal disease that occurs in our society. Hopefully we will find an end to it soon.”
New Mexico Alz-heimer’s Association outreach director Melissa Spiers said the statewide fundraising goal in 2012 is $250,000, and as of Saturday morning funds had reached $233,500. The Roswell fundraising goal was $20,000, and as of Saturday was at about $16,000. Spiers said New Mexico has six walks each year, and that Roswell’s was the final walk of the season.
“At every walk we’ve had more participants and have raised more money,” Spiers said.
“More than anything, it’s just people understanding that there is no cure for this disease. That’s why we have this event, that’s why we do it all around the nation, is to raise awareness that it’s not going away and we need to do something about it.”