When Karen Weiss lost her father to Alzheimer’s disease in October 2014 – just two years after his initial diagnosis at age 72 – she watched the disease rob him of his memory and mental faculties at astonishing speed.
“It’s horrible to watch your loved one slip away,” said Weiss, a resident of Highland Park, who also lost an aunt and two grandparents to Alzheimer’s. “My dad was an accountant… sharp, witty, and in good health. I had no idea it could go as quickly as it did.”
In search of support for her grief, Weiss stumbled on the North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an annual fundraiser held at Gallery Park in Glenview to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, the leading national health organization furthering Alzheimer’s research, care and support.
The association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest fundraising event to raise awareness and funds to combat the disease. Held in 600 communities nationwide, the organization sponsors 27 fundraising walks in Illinois alone, including nearby walks in Chicago, Lake County, the western suburbs, and St Charles.
“We want these walks to be very local,” said Jessica Munoz, senior manager for special events for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Illinois Chapter. “We don’t want participants to have to travel more than half an hour from home … many people living with the disease are not mobile, and time is precious.”
Now in its 4th year, the 2017 North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place at 8 a.m. on Saturday, September 16, drawing in nearly 1,000 participants to raise an estimated $225,000 towards the work of the Alzheimer’s Association. Twenty corporate sponsors have pledged their support for the event, including the pharmaceutical company Takeda, located in Deerfield.
Together with other local walks, the North Shore chapter helps the national organization raise $82 million to underwrite research for new treatments, assist Alzheimer’s patients living with the disease, provide support for caregivers, and raise awareness.
After captaining a team for her first walk in 2015, Weiss, of Highland Park, joined the North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee in 2016, and signed on as a co-chair for the event in 2017.
“It’s rewarding to be around people who are experienced with Alzheimer’s…I felt comfortable,” said Weiss. “My first year walking, my teammates and I held hands and shared each other’s stories.”
Surrounded by open prairie and park space, participants walk the Gallery Park loop twice, with restrooms and water stations set up at the halfway point. Walkers complete the 3.2-mile route, and learn more about the disease, advocacy opportunities, and clinical studies enrollments, as well as support programs and services from the Alzheimer’s Association. Before the walk begins, organizers will hold a special tribute ceremony to honor those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Organizers say many participants migrate to The Glen afterwards for lunch with their families.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that in Illinois alone, there are more than 220,000 people living with the disease, and an estimated 5 million living with Alzheimer’s in the United States. Additionally, more than 15 million family and friends provide care to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
“What’s shocking about this disease is the fact that it’s the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and the only cause of death in the top 10 in America that can’t be treated, prevented, or cured.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. And while the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have what’s known as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“Alzheimer’s is so much more than memory loss,” said Weiss. “The disease has a very unique, individual progression in each person.”
With a an executive committee of 10 volunteers devoting months to planning the North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and an additional 100 volunteers to help pull it off on the day, Jessica Munoz says the North Shore’s walk is unique for its closeness, camaraderie and community.
“Many people participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s each year and they all know each other…it’s like a mini-reunion,” said Munoz. “I see this the most on the North Shore.”
North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s, 8am, September 16, 2500 Chestnut Avenue, Glenview, www.alz.org