Walking to remember those who forget

Walking to remember those who forget

“Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is a situation that can utterly consume the lives and well-being of the people giving care, just as the disorder consumes its victims.”

— Leeza Gibbons, Emmy award-winning talk show host


It’s time to paint the town purple. The Alzheimer’s Association will be holding its annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sept. 28 and is inviting Southeast Texans to take part.

The walk begins at West Brook High School, 8750 Phelan Blvd. in Beaumont, at 8 a.m.

“There has never been a greater need for citizens in the Beaumont area to join in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” said Clarissa Urban, Alzheimer’s Association Regional Outreach Coordinator. “Funds raised will provide care and support services to the 340,000 residents of Texas living with Alzheimer’s, while also contributing to advancing critically needed research.”

A recent tragedy in west Beaumont reminded Southeast Texans how severe the disease could be. John Guillory, a 57-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, wandered away from his China home early Sunday morning, Sept. 1. After an extensive search by law enforcement, Guillory’s body was found in the LNVA Canal the next day. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Rod Carroll said that it is important for families of Alzheimer’s patients to use locator devices if loved ones have a history of wandering.

“Every couple of years we have an incident where an Alzheimer’s patient wanders away,” Carroll said. “If you have an Alzheimer’s patient, there are electronic devices that you could have out there if they are wanderers.”

Urban said that a portion of the funds from the Walk to End Alzheimer’s helps raise money for families to purchase these devices.

“We have funds set aside for families who are in need of assistance to purchase safety services for their loved one who wanders,” Urban said. “The Southeast Texas office currently has (grant) money to purchase those safety services for anyone who needs them. We advise the caregivers to wear a medic alert bracelet, too, so if they have an emergency the authorities or medical personnel will know to check on their loved one.”

Although she hasn’t had to face the unthinkable like Guillory’s family, Jenifer Landry, a 49-year-old native of Orange, said she has received many scares from her mother, Margaret Conway, 81, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 79. A few years ago, Conway had a craving for ice cream one day and decided to take a more than 30-minute drive from her house near Fairmount (near South Toledo Bend) to Dairy Queen in Hemphill.

“She loved Dairy Queen ice cream. My dad would take her there all the time,” Landry said. “She told my dad (Preston Conway) she wanted some ice cream, and he said he would get her some later. He fell asleep on the couch, and she ended up getting the (truck) keys.”

Margaret climbed in her husband Preston’s truck and drove north on Highway 87 from the elderly couple’s home, her daughter said.

“She drove this without anyone,” Landry said. “There is a long bridge called 6 Mile and curves to make it to Dairy Queen. I really think she was focused on this day. I’m sure her meds were working and God was driving.”

Margaret made it to Dairy Queen in Hemphill where she ordered ice cream, accepted it without paying, and then proceeded to make her way back home. The restaurant called the police, and the chase ensued, Landry said.

“The police went after her,” she said. “She didn’t stop for the cop’s lights or anything. The policeman got in front of her and my dad and sister got behind her because she wouldn’t stop. She started slowing down. When she got it down to a really slow pace, my dad got out of the car, and jumped in the truck with my mom. He pushed on the brake and put it in park.” 

Despite all the chaos she had caused, Landry’s mother was contently eating her ice cream and unaware of the chase, her daughter said.

Landry said her mother, who has wandered off several times including an incident where she drove a golf cart into a ditch and another where she ended up in a lake, has never been injured during her Alzheimer’s escapades but easily could have been.

“It’s a funny story, but she could have gotten hurt,” said Landry.

After Landry’s sister placed Margaret into a nursing home,  where Preston visits her daily, Landry volunteered as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association to help raise Alzheimer’s awareness. She said she has been distributing pamphlets advertising the event and is gearing up to take part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the first time.

“The walk is like a first step to letting everybody know about Alzheimer’s,” Landry said. “This is from my heart. This is something I believe in. Something that will get everybody together to communicate on what’s going on. It’s a great step for people to meet Clarissa (Urban) and the organization.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, also known as Memory Walk, is more than just a walk to Diane Parrett, president of the Greater Sabine Area Association of Activity Directors and Social Workers.

“Memory Walk is a beautiful event and worthy of support by everyone,” Parrett said.

Participants will learn about Alzheimer’s disease and how to get involved with this critical cause, from advocacy opportunities, the latest in Alzheimer’s research and clinical trial enrollment to support programs and services, she said. Each walker will also join in a meaningful ceremony to honor those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

Parrett’s organization has sponsored the Kiddie Korner portion of the event for the past 10 years, she said.

The Kiddie Korner gives adults an opportunity to let their children play while they walk, providing an enjoyable time for the kids and their families, said Parrett, whose father was personally affected by the disease.

“In 2000, my dad was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s,” Parrett said. “Through my professional work and volunteerism, as well as personal journey with my dad, I have seen the devastation that results from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s could affect anyone and any family at any time.”

Parrett as well as numerous other Southeast Texas families like Guillory’s and Conway’s have felt the damage that Alzheimer’s can cause both to patients and their families. And unfortunately, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the problem is growing.

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time, affecting memory, thinking and behavior, is a growing epidemic and is now the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, the organization said in a press release. As baby boomers age, the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease will rapidly escalate, increasing well beyond today’s estimated 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. 

In addition to the 5K/3.1 miles, participants will enjoy a fun, welcoming ceremony and warm up accompanied by a DJ and a special tribute to those who have experienced or are experiencing Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Start or join a team today at www.alz.org/walk. For more information, call (409) 833-1613. For more information on locator devices for Alzheimer’s patients visit www.alz.org/comfortzone.