Hearing the sounds of excited cheers and lively music, it could almost be forgotten that the dozens of people gathered at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Saturday were there for a somber cause — to raise awareness of and combat a debilitating illness.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is an annual awareness event and fundraiser put on by the Alzheimer’s Association. Sara Hondel, a board member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Alaska and a member of the organizing committee for Saturday’s event, said this year was the first time the Walk to End Alzheimer’s had come to the Kenai Peninsula.
Though the tone on Saturday was largely celebrant, stark reminders of the impact of Alzheimer’s disease could be seen all around the room. Part of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the Promise Garden for Alzheimer’s, and the colorful pinwheel flowers that make up that garden were held by many in the room.
Hondel explained that each color has a different representation of a person’s connection to the disease.
A person carrying a blue flower, she said, is someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. There were blue flowers being held in the room. Purple, the color Hondel held during a ceremony before the walk, is carried by someone who has lost someone to Alzheimer’s. Yellow is carried by someone who supports or provides care for someone living with Alzheimer’s, and orange is carried by someone seeking a world without Alzheimer’s.
Hondel pointed to those carrying the yellow flower, saying that one of the major impacts of Alzheimer’s is that people require constant support. A lot of that support, she said, is unpaid.
According to Alaska-specific statistics provided by the Alzheimer’s Association of Alaska, around 8,500 people are living with the disease and around 25,000 caregivers are supporting them.
The focus of the walk, Hondel said, is to get information out and show the wide-reaching impact of the disease.
“We are so excited to have this event brought to the Kenai Peninsula, because we’re bringing awareness to Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and we’re trying to make an impact,” she said.
On Saturday, the sports complex’s conference room was packed with dozens of attendees. Cindy Harris, another board member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Alaska who was also involved in the local chapter’s founding, welcomed an enthusiastic crowd and introduced another advocate, Ann Tillery, who led the group in yoga and stretching before the walk.
Dancers from Diamond Dance Project gave a performance and then pulled members of the crowd in to get grooving themselves. Finally, the crowd flooded out of the complex and took one of two routes for the walk, smiling through the wind and the rain. Many had umbrellas, some made the journey in wheelchairs.
Beyond the walk, Hondel said they’re encouraging people to reach out to federal and state representatives and advocate for education and funding to combat dementia.
To get involved, or for more information about the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Association of Alaska, visit alz.org or facebook.com/alzassnalaska.