Joan Simon of Reedsburg is no stranger to the difficulties of Alzheimer’s disease, which she describes as “often painful, often unforgiving.”
When her husband fell ill, she quickly learned that she needed help. And it was the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin that helped Simon and her family move forward as effective caretakers.
“You need to know that there are people available to help you with this process,” Simon said during Saturday’s 2016 Sauk County Alzheimer’s Walk at Mary Rountree Evans Park in Baraboo. “The more you can learn from these people that know what they’re doing, the better off you are.”
Simon was this year’s family chair at the annual event, and she credited the Alliance with helping her family make it through the “long days and nights” caring for her late husband.
Saturday’s walk was the 16th to take place in Baraboo. It helps raise money for the Alliance, which provides free resources for families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
It also helps secure funding for research, and Paul Rusk, the organization’s executive director, said there is plenty to be excited about on that front. Newly released federal funds have boosted research through the University of Wisconsin’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.
Rusk said the Alliance’s goal is to secure $400 million more in research funding and ensure that the first person cured of Alzheimer’s disease will be involved in a Wisconsin-based clinical trial.
Researchers currently are in need of study participants with mild cognitive impairment, as well as males age 45 to 65 who do not have Alzheimer’s in their family. The healthy men will serve as a control group.
“If you are fortunate enough to be on the side of your family that doesn’t have Alzheimer’s in its history, you can help the side that does by signing up to be a healthy control,” Rusk said.
The Alliance helped 25,000 people last year, Rusk said, adding that the organization can provide assistance to anyone touched by the disease, regardless of their location or income.
He said a new program recently approved for the Baraboo area will help train personnel at businesses and other organizations on how to handle situations that involve people with dementia.
“We think that will make a big difference here in Sauk County,” Rusk said.
The walk’s medical chair, Natalie Westegard, whose late father suffered from the disease, told those in attendance she has high hopes for the future. One day, she said, she would like to see the annual walk led by people who have survived Alzheimer’s.