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July 20, 2010 > Memory Walk

Memory Walk

By Mekala Raman and Praveena Raman

65-year-old Howard Kirsch met his future wife Carol in a pottery class in New York in the 1970s. They got married in 1973, over the years had two children, and settled in California. Now in their sixties they have settled down to a seemingly perfect life complete with grandchildren, but Howard is dealing with a very difficult situation. His beloved Carol is a victim of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

An irreversible, progressive and fatal brain disorder, Alzheimer's disease is characterized by loss of memory and thinking skills and affects the behavior of the patient. The disease was first described in 1906 by the German physician Alois Alzheimer after whom it has been named. Dr. Alzheimer found abnormalities in the brain of a patient. Further research has shown these to be tangles and plaques that are being formed by proteins in the brain. Scientists are still trying to determine the exact role of these plaques and tangles. They currently believe that they block communication between the nerve cells. This disease has been found to be very complex; research in this area is still in its infancy.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia affecting about 5.3 million Americans (about 480,000 in California) and is the second most feared disease after cancer. Of the 5.3 million people, it is estimated that 5.1 million are aged 65 and older. The figures also show that about 200,000 Americans who are afflicted by this disease are below 65 years old with statistics showing that they could be in their early 60s, 50s, 40s or as early as their 30s. People in the younger age group have early onset due to a genetic abnormality they have inherited. Carol Kirsch is one of the 200,000 Americans with early onset of the disease.

Twenty percent of California's Alzheimer's patients use available health care programs that have been in place since the 1980s. Yet, in response to the state's $20 billion deficit, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed debilitating cuts in and even elimination of these programs. Budget cuts that have already been passed have reduced funds for Alzheimer's research centers by 50 percent and caregiver resource centers by more than 70 percent, according to the Alzheimer's Association's report. Funding for Alzheimer's Day Care Resource Centers (ADCRC) have been eliminated and the eligibility for Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) and In-home Support Services (IHSS) is limited. In the May revision of the 2010-2011 California budget the Governor encouraged elimination of ADHC.

Carol currently uses the Alzheimer's Services of the East Bay ADHC Center in Berkeley. Her case of early-onset Alzheimer's disease requires that she receive attention at such a facility. Carol's use of ADHC also gives her husband and caregiver Howard a much-needed break and rest. Taking care of a loved one afflicted by this disease is physically and emotionally draining. The webpage for ADHC on the California Department of Aging website also touts the program as helping "delay or prevent inappropriate or personally undesirable institutionalization." Yet, this essential program has been tentatively scheduled for the chopping block.

Mariko Yamada, Assembly member and Chair of the Assembly's Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, opposes cuts to Health and Human services, especially those to Alzheimer's funding. "We cannot allow our most vulnerable citizens to bear the brunt of the cuts," says Yamada. "We must look to other areas of the budget to trim spending, and must increase revenue." Already in 2009 the Governor had not only cut revenues for the ADCRC but also implemented cuts for much needed Alzheimer's disease research.

The Alzheimer's Association is working hard in their advocacy efforts, educating the community, raising awareness and speaking out against these cuts. Through their signature event Memory Walk, which takes place nationwide, the association, generates awareness of this disease within the community and raises funds for important research, education and support for patients and caregivers.

The Alzheimer's Association will be holding their annual Memory Walk in San Francisco on Saturday, September 11 at Mission Creek Park and in San Jose on September 25 at Arena Green. Memory Walk helps the Alzheimer's Association generate awareness of this disease within the community, creates an environment of support and understanding for participants and raises funds for important research, education and support for patients and caregivers. The events feature a 3-mile walk with an optional shortcut at 1.5 miles and are open to everybody.

The San Francisco Memory Walk is one of the biggest in the nation; the San Jose walk is just a few years old. The Walk is family friendly and open to all. There is no registration fee or minimum fundraising amount. Individuals can join an existing team, start their own team or walk on their own. The event provides fun and entertainment for the entire family. The Memory Walk planning committee of the Northern California chapter would love to see more people and teams from the Tri-City area participate in one of these two walks and join the nationwide movement to stop Alzheimer's disease.

To register for the walk or to donate visit - www.memorywalk.kintera.org/sf10
Donations and support for Fremont walkers: Praveena Raman - www.memorywalk.knitera.org/sf10/praveena or Mekala Raman www.memorywalk.kintera.org/sf10/mekala are very welcome.

For more information about the San Francisco walk, contact Praveena Raman, volunteer Memory Walk Planning Committee at Praveena@tricityvoice.com or Anne Betts at (650)962-8111 or email memorywalk@alznorcal.org.

For the San Jose walk visit www.alz.org or call Lisa Dowell at (650)962-8111 or email memorywalk@alznorcal.org.


The San Francisco Memory Walk
Saturday, September 11
9:30 a.m.
Mission Creek Park
Mission Bay, San Francisco

The San Jose Memory Walk
September 25
10:00 a.m.
Arena Green
W Santa Clara St., San Jose

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