Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Posted On November 8, 2018

Midlands’ families and caregivers come together to support finding a cure

By Warren Hughes     Photos Courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association


Alexis Watts of Columbia knows well how Alzheimer’s disease takes its toll on both victims and their families - it’s the reason her personal cause is providing support for them and working with the Alzheimer’s Association to find a cure.

“I lost my grandmother, Daisy, to this disease. My mother was her caregiver and I saw firsthand how devastating it is to watch a family member slowly forget you and everyone she loves. It’s such a horrible thing for a family to go through,” she said, as development director for the Midlands office in Columbia of the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association. “I am a firm believer that we have to raise awareness and money to fund research to beat this terrible disease, while helping to support local caregivers.”

The association’s “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” on November 3rd is the group’s biggest annual event to raise awareness of the disease and provide support for victims and their families.  Money raised for the Alzheimer’s Association primarily remains local, providing a helpline staffed 24/7, respite assistance for families, educational programs, literature, newsletters, support groups and other services free of charge to the community.  A portion of all money raised goes to support research into the cause of and potential cures for the disease. All funds raised provide support to people with dementia and families in the local area. 

A favorite part of the annual event for Watts and others is the Promise Garden ceremony before the walk commences. “This uplifting activity gives each walker a brightly-colored Promise Garden flower representing their connection to the disease, which you can personalize with a loved one’s name or a message of hope. This pinwheel-style flower is yours to take home and ‘plant’ somewhere that you’ll see it each time that it catches the wind,” she said. During the annual two-mile walk, participants also have the opportunity to learn more about Alzheimer's disease, advocacy opportunities, clinical studies and support programs and services.   

Watts says, “My story is sadly one of many. Alzheimer’s disease is a growing epidemic and the nation’s sixth leading cause of death. Here in South Carolina, we have the highest mortality rate from Alzheimer’s in the nation, with more than 6,300 deaths a year. Almost 25 percent of patients now in hospice care in the state are victims of the disease. Some 90,000 of our citizens are living with Alzheimer’s and almost 310,000 family and friends are providing care for them. Nationally, every 65 seconds someone is diagnosed with the disease with a current 5.7 million Americans affected,” Watts noted. “This number is expected to triple by the middle of the century.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. “Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health,” Watts said. 

“We provide education and support to those facing Alzheimer’s and other dementias throughout our community, including those living with the disease - caregivers, health care professionals and families. We are also committed to advocating for the needs and rights of those facing Alzheimer’s disease and advancing critical research toward methods of treatment, prevention and, ultimately, a cure.” 

Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer's or other dementia. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are ten warning signs and symptoms. If you notice any of them, don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life - One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. 

2.Challenges in planning or solving problems - Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. 

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure - People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. 

4. Confusion with time or place - People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. 

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships - For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving. 

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing - People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock"). 

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps - A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. 

8. Decreased or poor judgment - People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. 

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities - A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They also may avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. 

10. Changes in mood and personality - The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. 

Signs and Symptoms Source: Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) 2018

The Alzheimer's Association - South Carolina Chapter serves the entire state through a network of regional offices with the main office in Anderson. In addition to the Midlands office in Columbia, regional offices are in Charleston, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Spartanburg. The Midlands service area includes Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Marlboro, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland and Sumter counties. To reach the 24/7 HELPLINE, call 1.800.272.3900.

The date for the 2019 Columbia Walk has already been set for October 26 at Spirit Communications Park. Volunteers are already being recruited for next year. If interested, email Watts at awatts@alz.org. or visit the website alz.org/sc. The Midlands office address is 140 Stoneridge Dr #210, Columbia, SC 29210, 803.791.3430.