BUFFALO For most of the hundreds of Southern Tier residents who Walk to End Alzheimer's at the Chautauqua Institution every fall, the reason they walk is personal-they have been affected in some way by Alzheimer's disease. Across Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, it's estimated there are more than 7,500 people who have the disease, with another 22,000 providing some kind of care for them.
Among those caregivers is the family of the late Nancy (Littlejohns) George of Olean, who had the disease. Nanette Higgins, one of Nancy's four daughters, says her mother "would be delighted to see so many people walking to end this disease because it is so isolatingit's good to see people come together and support each other." The walk, sponsored each year by the Alzheimer's Association Western New York chapter, helps sustain the chapter's outreach, including care consultations and education, as well as funding research aimed at ending this disease. Once again, the Chautauqua Institution will host the walk on Sept.7.
Nancy's family has been walking for about 10 years as a team called "Nancy's Girls". "That's what she called usher girls," said granddaughter Elizabeth Galeazzo of Nancy's four daughters and seven granddaughters. Nancy was also a bit of a prankster, according to her family. "She liked nothing better than to hide and jump out and scare us, especially after we watched a scary movie!" remembers daughter Ann McIntyre. That slowly changed as the disease progressed, said Nanette. "It was so hard to watch our mother become a stranger to us." Nancy had Alzheimer's many years, with the disease progressing as other illnesses impacted her health. "She lost a part of herself with every illness," said Nanette.
Pictured are “Nancy’s Girls” who have been walking in support of Alzheimer’s awareness for about 10 years.
These three women are joined on the Walk each year by another dozen family members. "We hope the walks accomplish more awareness for this disease that can affect anybody. And we hope to raise money for continued research for someday finding a cure. Also, we act as a huge support group for each other because we share this common bond," said Elizabeth.
The annual event is open to everyone and includes a touching Promise Garden ceremony. Every registered walker receives a vinyl flower pinwheel that can be personalized with a message or name. The flowers come in four colors, with each color representing a reason to Walk, such as having lost someone to Alzheimer's or providing some kind of support. The flowers are "planted" before the walk, and then retrieved as a take-home/remembrance of their loved one and the event.
Registration can be completed quickly online by visiting the Alzheimer's Association Western New York Chapter website at alz.org/wny. Walk day activities begin at 9 a.m. at the Turner Community Center on the grounds of the Institution. More information is also available by calling 1-800-272-3900.
The Walk to End Alzheimer's is made possible through the generous support of these fine local companies:
ElderWood Senior Care, West Herr, Columbus McKinnon and Tim Hortons.