Over five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that has
no known treatment, prevention or cure. On Saturday, September 23 hundreds of Rolla
residents took action against the disease and gathered to raise awareness and funds for the
‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’.
“(The walk) helps to fund research,” said Stacy Tew-Lovasz, chapter president for the greater
Missouri chapter for six years, “(Alzheimer’s research) is vastly underfunded. Of the top 10
causes of death, heart disease, stroke, HIV etc., they are all on the decline except for
Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease increased by 71%. Why is that? Because we invested
in the ‘War on Aids’, we invested in heart health. And that’s good! When we see an investment
we see results. The walks help with funding and investing, and finding research participants.”
The walk, having taken place the last three years in Rolla, has a history of making an impact in
the area. In 2016 the event raised a total of $31,000 through donor donations and fundraising,
all of which goes to help funding for future events and Alzheimer’s research. Not only does the
walk provide the funding for research, it seeks to find participants for the research itself.
“We always need more research participants, especially minorities. African Americans are
impacted by the disease two times greater, and yet participation ( in research) is low.” said Tew-
Lovasz.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and its growth only
continues with the population aging. In 2016 over 314,000 people assisted with caregiving of a
loved one, totalling to an amount of $4 billion worth of care hours. “We have seen it takes a
three-to- one ratio of caregivers to individuals with the disease. That’s what people don't
understand, “ said Tew-Lovasz “Why is it the most expensive disease in the United States? The
length of the disease, and the devastation (contribute) to this.”
The walk stretched along a mile course around the Lion’s Club Park in Rolla. Participants did
what they were capable, from one lap all the way up to six. “The walks are a way for us to
connect to the community and create awareness,” said Tew-Lovasz, “We utilize those dollars for
help today, but also the hope for tomorrow.”
One common theme among the participants was their history of connection with the disease.
Walk manager Matt Bergmann, spoke of his grandmother who died from the disease when he
was only 15. “It affected me, and that's when I realized what a family goes through, because
you don’t really know until you experience it yourself.” he said.
The day was not wholly somber, however.“It’s kind of a day of celebration,” said Bergmann, “It
shows everybody that might be experiencing this and going through it for the first time that
they’re not alone in the fight, and that they have a support group they can reach out to. Going
through it is terrible, you can feel like you're alone and get overwhelmed. So coming out here,
having a really fun day and realizing you're not the only one, you can look around and in a
community like this have someone to talk to about it.”
One Rolla participant who was the top individual and group contributor to the event had a very
recent history with the disease. Angella Stahlman spoke of her father, Melvin Whited, who
passed away in March of 2017, and how the hardships of his care influenced her family. “The
last two years (of finding care) were horrible. There’s a real problem in this rural community with
the needs, and meeting the needs of the caregivers. There’s just not enough support here.” said
Stahlman.
Event sponsors, who helped make the walk possible, also participated in the walk. Tim Rupp,
financial advisor for Edward Jones, said that the walk was personal to each of them. ““We are
very excited that Edward Jones took on the national sponsor.” Rupp said. We’re here not just
because of that, but each of us have been touched by the disease.” Rupp said.
A sea of colored, wind-spun flowers held by a crowd of Rolla residents symbolized the story of
each participant in their colors. Blue symbolizes a participant with Alzheimer’s, purple is
someone who has lost a loved one to the disease, yellow is a participant who is caring for or
supporting someone they know with Alzheimer’s, and orange is for a participant who supports
the cause and and a vision of the world without Alzheimer’s.
The walk introduced a new and special ceremony, in which for the first time a white flower was
introduced as a symbol of progress. “It gives me goosebumps,” said Tew-Lovasz, “We’ve never
had a white flower. Now, we still don’t have a survivor, there is still not ability to prevent, treat or
cure today. However, we are starting to see on the horizon the potential for treatment. For that
reason, we are debuting the white flower.”
The presenters of the flower were two Rolla community members that each share a special
story for their participation. Mother and son duo, Sara and Charles Ellis raised their white flower
high in the hopes for a brighter future without the disease. Sara Ellis’ grandmother, Helen Cook,
was diagnosed and died in 2013 from the disease.
“Since I (moved) here three years ago it was really quiet, and i’ve noticed that people are more
vocal about getting support.” said Ellis. Charles, one of the youngest walkers at the event, is a
symbol in himself to the participants. “Alzheimer’s currently affect 5.5 million americans. I don’t
want our future generation to have to go through that with us. I don’t want my son to see me go
through Alzheimer’s,” said Ellis. “That’s why we are doing this, though. For them. For a future
without Alzheimer’s.”