Did you know that 6 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S.? 80,000 of those adults are Connecticut residents, and 11 million friends and family provide unpaid care for the victims of this degenerative cognitive disease which currently has no cure.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease among the older population. In fact, it is in the top five leading causes of death among older adults in the U.S. and the most common type of dementia,” said Prof. Rui Liu, an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions at Sacred Heart University.
Liu is in her second year of teaching at Sacred Heart following her Master’s in public health (MPH), PhD in epidemiology and post-doctoral fellowship in aging and neuro-epidemiology. She has recently expanded her focus from Parkinson’s disease to include Alzheimer’s disease.
Liu invited a guest speaker from the Alzheimer’s Association to speak to her class last year, which was met with great interest from the students, especially from those with friends and family who are living with Alzheimer’s. Liu was then connected with Cheryl Podob, a developmental manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, with the goal of pursuing a partnership outside of the classroom.
“Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is very important to me,” said Podob. “My grandmother and sister passed away from Alzheimer’s, my uncle passed from Lewy Body dementia and I currently have friends whose parents are suffering with Alzheimer’s.”
Liu and Podob partnered with the Office of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning (VPSL) to co-sponsor Sacred Heart’s first Walk to End Alzheimer’s this fall. Walks take place in more than 600 communities every year and are the world’s largest fundraisers for Alzheimer’s care.
“Every penny that we raised goes directly to the association to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research, patient care and support,” said Liu.
“This event not only allowed the SHU community to gather in memory of those who lost loved ones to this disease or who are currently struggling with it, but also share hope for a cure for the future,” said Annie Wendel, director of VPSL.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s took place on Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. in front of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. Athletic teams, clubs and organizations, faculty and members of the SHU community were able to register a team for the event and raise money leading up to the walk.
While the primary function of the event was to walk around the quad, there were several other parts to the event, starting with the Promise Garden.
“Participants are asked to choose a promise flower. [They] picked out a color that represented their reason for the walk,” said Liu.
Blue represented someone who is currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. Orange was for supporters or advocates for the disease. Purple meant you were walking for a loved one currently living with Alzheimer’s. Yellow was representative of caregivers for those affected by Alzheimer’s. And white was for children, symbolizing their hope for a future without Alzheimer’s.
The team that raised the most money, “Family and Friends of David Leach,” was invited up to cut the ribbon and commence the walk. Also in appearance were Big Red and the cheerleading team to cheer on participants as they did their laps, salsa instructors to keep the energy up and members from the student choir to sing the national anthem.
As participants completed a lap, they gained a bead to put on their purple string, purple being the designated color for Alzheimer’s disease. At the time of registration, participants were given sidewalk chalk to write messages on the concrete in front of the Chapel as well.
Contributions were made even after the event, bringing the total to over $8,000 from roughly 230 participants.
“Most importantly, though, we were able to support those faculty and staff on campus who are affected and touched by this disease,” said Podob. “So many people came up to us after the walk and thanked us for being there and supporting them.”
VPSL has already committed to supporting next year’s event and hopes to involve even more alumni.
“This time around, we’re thinking of planning it earlier and also looking to involve more students in the planning process,” said Liu.
Although the walk for this semester has passed, anyone is still welcome to donate to the original fundraiser here: https://act.alz.org/site/TR?company_id=234195&fr_id=15454&pg=company&pw_id=14568 .
The Alzheimer’s Association is the #1 non-profit organization in the U.S. which funds its own research. In addition to donating money towards the association, those interested can also register to see if they qualify to participate in a clinical trial that may advance Alzheimer’s research. You can find out more by calling 800-272-3900, emailing TrialMatch@alz.org, or visiting https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/research_progress/clinical-trials/trialmatch
“There are many ways to get involved and to volunteer. You can join a planning committee, become a community educator or be an advocate,” said Podob. “If you are interested in volunteering, there is something for everyone.”