Attendees buzzed with intention as they prepared themselves for the return of an in-person, 2-mile walk to raise funds that benefit families, research and advocacy for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“During (the start of) COVID, the walk was a virtual walk — it was a little different,” said Kristi Eckard, event chair of marketing and communication. “We’re excited to have everybody back together. There’s a huge sense of community that people have been desperate for.”
More than 450 participants gathered at Bridgeport Park for the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The opening ceremony was a field of plastic flowers in various colors as attendees either left plastic flowers in the promise garden or held on to their flowers for their walk. The promise garden is included in most Walk to End Alzheimer’s events, according to Eckard.
Each flower represented specific things: the purple flower represented someone who has lost someone to Alzheimer’s; the blue flower represented someone living with Alzheimer’s; the yellow flower represented a caregiver or people who are caregivers for those suffering from the disease; the orange flower represented supporters; a single white flower represented the future-first survivor of Alzheimer’s, which is the ultimate goal for the association, Eckard said.
Eckard started volunteering last year in honor of her grandmother and aunt, who died with Alzheimer’s, and for her father, who fights the disease now.
“The idea is to raise money, not just for the science to find a cure, which is our No. 1 goal, but also for the support and outreach to the caregivers,” Eckard said. “So, they know how to handle their loved one who has Alzheimer’s.”
Last year, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Santa Clarita raised $65,000. The total amount raised for this year was $118,331, and the organizers exceeded their goal of $90,000, according to Eckard.
“I think the goal is always to do better than the year before,” Eckard said. “There are 600 walks across the nation and communities like Santa Clarita. It’s the largest fundraiser in the world for Alzheimer’s research. There’s always an expectation to do better.”
There are approximately 6 million people in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the nation, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“The number is increasing, you know,” Eckard said. “There’s some science to the fact that the isolation makes the disease progress faster.”
Stephanie Funderburg, the executive director for Oakmont of Valencia, was in attendance and she had a team from Oakmont ready to walk, too.
Funderburg has more than 20 years of experience in senior living care. She said caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is her passion and drive.
“Every day is different,” she said. “Some days they have good days. Some days are bad, so wherever we can be in their moment and give them as much quality life, day to day, is important.”
Funderburg said it takes a lot of patience to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. She recommended that caregivers inform themselves as much as possible about the disease.
“It just takes a whole lot of patience and love and understanding for this disease,” Funderburg said. “You’re going to see different behaviors and just different things.”
For families that need to make the difficult decision of placing their loved one in a home or community specific to their needs, they should look early, she added.
“Sometimes, (families) wait too long to where they take advantage of all the wonderful things that a community can offer for that daily routine that they need,” Funderburg said. “And it takes the pressure off that caregiver at home.”
Marie Ann Bryne, 59, of Valencia, lives with her father in Oakmont. She said she worries for her father because he forgets who he is, who she is to him, and sometimes forgets to eat. She decided to stay with him because she wanted to care for him as much as possible.
“This disease harms us, and our loved ones,” Bryne said. “We have to keep fighting, and we are stronger together. Together, I know we will end this disease.”