The Walk to End Alzheimer’s event will take place Sept. 19 in Southwest Colorado, but the format will be different because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of hosting a large gathering, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging participants to walk as individuals or in small groups on sidewalks, tracks and trails across Cortez, Durango and surrounding Southwestern Colorado communities.
“This year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be everywhere,” said Teresa Valko, volunteer chair of the Cortez/Durango Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “The pandemic is changing how we walk, but it doesn’t change the need to walk. This year, more than ever, we need to come together to support all those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementia.”
With the money raised, the Alzheimer’s Association will continue to provide care and support to families during these difficult times – all at no charge – while also advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention, she said.
Many time-honored features of the Walk will remain, but what is new this year is that they will be shown online instead.
On Walk day, an opening ceremony will feature local speakers and a presentation of Promise Flowers to honor the personal reasons participants join together to fight Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
These events will be delivered to participants’ smartphones, tablets and computers. To register and receive the latest updates on this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, visit: alz.org/walk Participants can use a new app to track their steps and distance, follow a virtual walk path, manage their Facebook fundraisers, and access information and resources to help individuals and families affected by the disease.
A new audio track is available to encourage participants along the way and to congratulate them upon completion of their walk.
“Many of our constituents are at higher risk when it comes to COVID-19 and we know that our volunteers and participants appreciate our commitment to keeping all involved healthy and safe,” said Amelia Schafer, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “This year’s Walk will be an amazing experience and ensure the safety of the Alzheimer’s community.”
Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease – the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. In Colorado alone, more than 76,000 people are living with the disease and 256,000 more serve as their unpaid family caregivers.
Hard hit family fights backFor Teresa Valko who splits her time between homes in Durango and California, the impact of Alzheimer’s hits close to home. Eight of her family members have suffered from the disease.
Valko, 54, is fearful she too might succumb, because the disease can be hereditary. But if next, she plans to fight hard.
In a news release, she told her story.
Valko first became aware of the Alzheimer’s plague affecting her family while she was a college student. Over the summers, Valko lived with her uncle and helped care for her grandmother, who was exhibiting memory issues.
There had been talk of senility in family members previously, but this family full of scientists and medical professionals was adamant about getting an accurate diagnosis. During Valko’s freshman year, her grandmother was officially diagnosed. Sadly, the three siblings of Valko’s grandmother also were diagnosed, followed by her uncle. All have since passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.
“We realized we were all at high risk,” Valko said. “I watched my mother live in absolute frozen mortal fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
Sadly, Valko’s mom, Evelyn Wilson, began to show symptoms of the disease in 2007. She’s still living in Georgia but hasn’t spoken in about five years and is unable to care for herself.
Since that time, Teresa has undergone genetic testing. Not surprisingly, she’s learned that she has the same genetic profile as her mother.
“Two generations – 100 percent of family on my mom’s side – have died from Alzheimer’s,” said Valko.
Affected family members share a copy of the APOE4 gene found to promote the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins that cause characteristic plaques seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
To raise awareness and fundraising for treatment and a cure, Valko stepped up to the challenge.
About nine years ago, she got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association in California. She stuffed envelopes, answered phones, taught classes in the community, became a legislative ambassador and, eventually, was appointed to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter’s board. She served as chair of the board for nearly four years.
Valko was a founding member of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Initiative, member of the Leadership Society for Alzheimer’s Impact Movement and sat on the Ventura County Dementia Friendly committee.
Valko is taking the fight against the disease to Southwest Colorado and signed up to chair the Sept. 19 Cortez/Durango Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
“I’m in this fight for a reason and won’t step away because it’s time to travel and play,” she said.
Valko has two powerful reasons for continuing her work with the Alzheimer’s Association: her two daughters. The oldest, 22, is beginning a career in science, like her parents, after graduating from Fort Lewis College. The younger, 18, is a freshman in college in North Carolina.
“There’s the factor that I have children,” Teresa said. “I have a weird guilt feeling that I have contributed to their risk. It’s not a fun thing to carry around.”
So, if you are a resident of Southwest Colorado, expect to see Valko wearing the Alzheimer Association’s purple and leading awareness programs.
“I don’t want to spend my time and energy mourning something that hasn’t come to pass yet,” she said. “It really hits on that ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Are you going to rise up and fight or are you going to just let it happen. In my family, it’s all fight.”
To start a team for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s or make a donation, visit: alz.org/walk