Hundreds walk for Alzheimer’s research

By Gus Bode

Many celebrate loved ones lost at ‘memory walk’

More than 4.5 million Americans are living with a disease that leaves them unable to recognize the faces of their loved ones.

Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandchildren and friends met at the Campus Lake Boat Dock Saturday for the 15th annual Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk to raise money for research on the disease.

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Some of the 360 walkers came in memory of lost loved ones. Others, like the 14 members of the Illuminating Engineers Society and the American Society of Interior Designers, walked to support further Alzheimer’s research.

Melinda LaGarce, faculty adviser for both groups and interior design faculty member, said one of the primary goals for interior designers is to help people with special needs.

“Interior designers have a very direct impact on the quality of people’s lives,” LaGarce said, “and it can be, in part, for people with Alzheimer’s.”

In the mid-90s, the Carbondale Senior Center decided to create an adult day care for its seniors with Alzheimer’s. LaGarce was asked to help with the daycare’s lighting design. LaGarce said they knew that the yellow-orange afternoon sunlight can bring on the anxiety, pacing and wandering associated with Alzheimer’s. Through research, they discovered that maintaining a bright, white light can reduce these behaviors by about half.

Former Chicago resident Bob Torphy made his home at the Senior Center’s daycare for the last part of his life before dying of Alzheimer’s in March 2003. Torphy and his wife, Pat, moved to Carbondale temporarily to live with their daughter, Colleen, while Pat Torphy recovered from heart surgery.

Ten members of Torphy’s family came out Saturday to remember the former engineer. The family, also known as “Bob’s Crew,” wore blue hard hats and shirts bearing his favorite phrases like, “Good God, good meat, let’s eat” and “Take a long walk off a short pier.” They said that as a true Irish man he had a saying for everything.

Pat Torphy said the excellent care her husband, a 6-foot-9 inch “gentle giant,” received during his time in Carbondale is the reason she traveled from Chicago the last two years to participate in this walk.

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Colleen Torphy would take her father to the center before going to work as an SIUC dental hygiene faculty member. She said research for this disease is important for finding a cure and raising money through a walk is just one way to help.

“That’s why we are here,” Colleen Torphy said. “We are here to help make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

When he was first diagnosed, Pat Torphy said it was hard for the family to understand because it happened very quickly. She said it was especially hard for the grandchildren to comprehend the disease taking over their grandfather.

Jackson County Coroner Thomas Kupferer, who also walked Saturday, is a physician and sees many patients with Alzheimer’s. He finds himself advising the spouses and children as much as the patient.

Kupferer said some of the tests for Alzheimer’s include simple tasks like counting pocket change. He said he has seen proof that identifying the signs of the disease early can significantly slow the process.

Kupferer said continuing to educate the public is the only way to help people understand the early signs of the disease.

New research advocates active lifestyles as means to slow the disease’s progression. The study said adults who walked less than a quarter mile a day are twice as likely to develop dementia than those who walked two or more miles a day.

“Hopefully, someday we will find something that will not only slow the disease, but also find a cure,” Kupferer said.

Colleen Torphy said the family always tried to keep her father active and always asked him questions to help keep his memory in tact.

One night she helped get him ready for bed while her mother, Pat, was still recovering from surgery. After finishing, he sat on the edge of the bed looking at his wife, who was in a separate bed across the room.

“Colleen asked, ‘Mom, why is he looking at you like that?'” Pat Torphy said.

Pat Torphy said it was time for prayer as she stared at her husband. The couple was married for almost 50 years and each night before going to sleep, they would say prayers together.

“He would say to me, ‘I can’t remember how it goes,'” Pat Torphy said. “As bad as he was, he always would say his prayers.”

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