Nancy Daly represents the National Team Actors and Artists Unite. (Photo Credit/Alzheimer’s Association, California Southland Chapter)

More than 300 San Fernando Valley residents gathered at Los Angeles Pierce College to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This event, according to the organization, is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

Participants raised more than $76,000 for the organization. The Golden Goldbergs, led by team captain Phyllis Bigelson, was the top fundraising team, raising more than $6,842.

“We are so thankful to the hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents who supported this important cause. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal disease and, though there is no cure, the monies raised will help us fight until there is one,” said Alzheimer’s Association Senior Walk Manager Lori Blumenthal.

Participants were glad to be able to gather at this fundraising event, noting the toll the pandemic had on getting care and the challenges they’ve gone through as caregivers.

During this year’s walk, a Promise Garden ceremony was held that honored those in their lives that have been affected by the disease.

“It’s helpful to be able to just get out and talk to other people who are also caring for their loved ones. We are going through the same things,” said Sonia Lopez. “Others don’t understand what we are going through in the same way.”

Lopez said during the pandemic, doctor’s appointments were delayed or done by Zoom which, for her, wasn’t ideal.  

“It has been difficult,” she said, “to watch the disease advance in her mother who had a fulfilling career as a school teacher, but now isn’t able to remember any part of it.

“All of her life, she was so proud of her work and loved children and her students. Now, she gets very confused and she doesn’t recognize me now, I have to tell her who I am.”

Lopez said reading the organization’s information online has helped her learn more, including the benefit of having a good night’s sleep, which could help to stave off the disease.

“This can all be overwhelming, especially because I am my mother’s primary caregiver and our other family members live far away. It’s hard, but I tell myself, my mother took care of me all of my life, now it’s time for me to take care of her.”

Lopez said she stopped working so that she could care for her mother and she is fortunate because she did a good job of saving money. “To be honest, it was far easier going to a 9-5 job than caregiving 24/7, but I don’t want to put my mother in a facility.” Lopez said she worries that she is more susceptible because there is a hereditary component to the disease and wonders if she were to get Alzheimer’s herself  — who would take care of her?

Lopez said it has been helpful to learn more about what others are doing and looking ahead. She’s enrolled in long term health care for herself, which she probably wouldn’t have done if she hadn’t had this experience with her mother.

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease — a leading cause of death in the United States. Additionally, more than 11 million family members and friends provide care to people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In California alone, there are more than 690,000 people living with the disease and 1.12 million caregivers.

“We go through life thinking everything will be Ok and nothing will happen,” said Lopez. “But, I’ve learned through this experience that looking for resources, finding out as much information as you can, planning, talking and reaching out to other people who can help you, even if it’s just a kind word of support — makes a big difference.”

Latinos and African-Americans at Risk

According to research cited by the organization, older Latinos are about one-and-a-half times more likely compared to older white people to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, while older African-Americans are about twice as likely to have the disease as older white people. The reason for these differences is not well understood, but researchers believe that higher rates of vascular disease in these groups may also put them at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s.

During the walk, people enjoyed seeing the Promise Garden flowers that were set up along the march pathway. The colors of the flowers represented the various experiences of those affected.

Blue represented someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Purple represented an individual who has lost someone to the disease. Yellow was for a person who is currently supporting or caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Orange was for a participant who supports the cause and the Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association California Southland Chapter provides free educational programs, support services and care consultations across seven counties while also supporting critical research towards a cure. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers care and support through the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline, 800-272-3900.