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Walk to End Alzheimer's raises awareness

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type of dementia. With that in mind, Barton County residents held a Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday in Jack Kilby Square.

Volunteers from the Pilot Club of Great Bend helped organize the walk, as they have for more than nine years, member Rhonda Knudson said. Vicki Richardson, this year’s Pilot Ambassador, was the emcee for the ceremony before the start of the walk.

The program included members of American Legion Post 180 presenting the colors before the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Walkers were given windmill-type flowers to carry; the color of each flower had a different meaning:

• Blue is for a person who has Alzheimer’s disease

• Yellow is for those who are caregivers or supporting someone with the disease

• Purple is for those who have lost someone to Alzheimer’s

• Orange is for anyone else supporting the cause

“Together, our flowers create a garden of hope,” read a sign at the event. There was also a single white flower, held by a boy to represent the future and the first survivor of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Thirty years ago, I went back to school and worked for Eldercare,” Richardson said. “I took care of several gentlemen in the community who had Alzheimer’s.” It is a progressive disease with no cure.

A new experimental drug called lecanemab has slowed the rate of decline in memory and thinking in people with early Alzheimer’s disease by 27% compared to a placebo, and it is in phase 3 of clinical trials en route to FDA approval.

“Ultimately, the end of Alzheimer’s will come through research,” Richardson said. 

Money raised by the Alzheimer’s Association funds research and provides services and resources, along with a 24-hour helpline, 800-272-3900.

As encouraging as the news about a new drug is, Richardson cautioned, “We know Alzheimer’s isn’t stopping — and neither are we.”

Two of this year’s walkers, Sherri Williams and Betty Schneider, achieved “champion” status by raising over $500 each.

By the start of Saturday’s walk, the Barton County event had raised more than $12,000 but was still working toward a goal of $15,000, according to Missy Zimmer, Walk manager for western Kansas. She has previously served as the manager for the Barton County walk.

“Like so many of you, I have a connection,” Zimmer told fellow walkers. She lost her father last year after his 13-year progression as an Alzheimer’s patient. This year, carrying a purple flower for the first time, she said, “Great Bend is personal for me.”