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Walk to End Alzheimer's

Some diseases are so common that virtually everyone has personal contact with them, whether directly or through a friend, family member or coworker: breast cancer, diabetes, leukemia, melanoma, prostate cancer, HIV/AIDS and many others.

Among the most feared on this frightful list is Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike most other diseases, Alzheimer’s doesn’t just attack your body. It destroys your mind, gradually robbing you of the memories and capabilities that make you who you are.

Anyone who has been close to someone trapped in the agonizing long goodbye that is Alzheimer’s can’t help but shudder at the thought of the disease.

While there is no cure as yet, and precious few effective treatments, there is help for those suffering from the disease and the hard-pressed caregivers and family members trying to help them.

The editorial board met with local representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association this week and we were deeply impressed by the range of services and support they are able to offer. We were also impressed by the level of funding the organization devotes nationally to research into treatments – and dare we say, possible cures – for this dreadful disease.

We don’t know for certain exactly how many people in Napa County have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but the best estimate is around 3,000, and that’s just people who know they have the disease. Hundreds or thousands more may be in the early stages and have yet to recognize any symptoms. As the county’s population ages, the number is sure to rise.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a wide range of services to this community of people and their caregivers, from classes and support groups to referrals to specialized care givers and homes. Locally, they have a part-time coordinator to reach out to immigrant households, which are often reluctant to make contact with services and agencies that can help.

The first stop for tapping into this assistance is the association’s 24-hour help line – (800) 272-3900. It is staffed by trained clinical professionals who can answer questions, refer callers to specialized services, and offer support and advice. It has translators available to communicate in 41 languages.

The association staff told us that they got almost 900 such calls from the North Bay last year, ranging from general questions, such as “What are the symptoms,” to emergency situations, such as “My parent is leaving the house right now, what do I do?”

The helpline and most Alzheimer’s Association services are free to the public. A handful of specialized services do entail a nominal fee, but the association has financial aid available so that nobody is denied their services.

Yet this kind extensive support is not inexpensive. And here’s where you can help.

Over the past five years, Napa County has joined with 600 other communities across the nation to host the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The local event, held every year in Yountville, has grown to nearly 600 participants raising more than $110,000. The regional association chapter had 23,000 walkers in 19 locations in 2017, raising $5.2 million.

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The money raised goes in part to support the local and national offices of the association and in part to fund research and advocacy about the disease. Nationally, the association has spent more than $350 million on research in the past 35 years.

The walks, including the one in Napa, are organized by volunteers. Regional Special Events Manager Mindy Wright told us that they need volunteers year-round to plan the walk and staff the various committees that support it. She said anyone with an interest in the disease is welcome to join, and they will find useful work for volunteers of any age or talent.

The walk also relies on corporate sponsors. Traditionally, she said, sponsors tended to be senior-serving businesses, but the association is hoping to expand that base to other businesses that may not have a direct or obvious connection to Alzheimer’s disease.

If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or sponsor, call Wright at (707) 573-1210 or email her at mwright1@alz.org. If you’d like to walk in the event, set this year for Sept. 15, and raise money, visit act.alz.org to sign up.

And if you need help or have any questions about Alzheimer’s Disease, call the helpline at (800) 272-3900 or visit alz.org/norcal.

The Alzheimer’s Association is there to help, and to show that, no matter what you are facing, you are not alone.

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The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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