A mile for their memory

A mile for their memory

By Jordan Duncan

Teams walked Saturday morning carrying colored plastic flowers, symbolizing the memories of their lost loved ones—or their loved ones’ lost memories.

The Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois Chapter hosted this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s event at Carbondale High School to raise funding and awareness for the disease.

Students Together Advocating Rehabilitation Services is an undergraduate-only Registered Student Organization that advocates for people with disabilities, and sent volunteers to the walk. Mariah Patz, a senior studying rehabilitation services and psychology from Lake Village, Ind., and the president of STARS, said the group has participated in the event the last four years.

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Courtney Finigan, special events manager for the local chapter, said the group had a good turnout for volunteers. She said STARS sent so many volunteers she had to turn some away.

Finigan said the event raised more than $25,000 and had between 250 and 275 walkers.

“I feel like there’s more people in this area getting involved with the Alzheimer’s Association,” she said.

Mike Bius, manager of education and outreach for the local chapter, said there are more than 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. He said this number will almost triple by 2050 if there’s no cure because people are living longer. He said the money raised would go to research and free services to patients and caregivers.

“We can’t stop it, we can’t cure it and we don’t even know what causes it,” he said. “So we are currently focused on trying to fund research to get answers to these questions.”

Finigan said the association also provides education and a 24-hour helpline intended to support and give information to caregivers and people with memory loss.

Another service provided by the association is a monthly support group for caregivers.

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Tracy Hansen, a graduate student from Carterville studying behavior analysis therapy, was a member of STARS and mediates the support group on the first Saturday of every month.

Hansen said the group is for those who experience sadness or fatigue from caregiving. She said because of the subject of discussion, people with dementia are not allowed at these meetings.

“These family members and caregivers need to be able to speak freely without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings that has dementia,” she said.

Hansen also said it was important people know Alzheimer’s and dementia are not disabilities, but diseases.

Margaret French, a senior from Chicago studying exercise science, is the secretary of STARS and said she hopes the disease is not as prevalent in the future.

“My future profession is occupational therapy and I will deal with people with Alzheimer’s, but I really hope that one day they don’t come in to me as a patient,” French said.

Patz said the RSO’s volunteers gain volunteer hours, experience and personal fulfillment. She said students also get an opportunity to assist in the community.

“It gives them a chance to connect more with the community versus just being a student and only surrounding yourself with students,” Patz said. “It’s kind of hard to bust out of the bubble when you’re focused on your own schoolwork and your own issues, so it’s nice to connect with people.”

Patz said increased awareness of the disease helps raise donations for Alzheimer’s.

Those who walked around the track carried flowers signifying their connection to the disease. Finigan said an orange flower meant you came because you support the cause of treating Alzheimer’s; yellow was for those who were the caregiver of someone with the disease; those living with the disease carried blue; and purple was for those who lost a loved one to the disease.

Katie Strain, a graduate student from Chicago studying zoology, carried a purple flower and said she raised $730 this year. She said she walked for her grandfather, who died of Alzheimer’s earlier this year.

“We’d go camping with my grandparents all the time,” she said. “He was really outdoorsy, take us fishing, all the good grandpa kind of stuff.”

Strain said watching her grandfather’s life change is what affected her most and piqued her interest in the walk.

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