Bob and Jennie Duffy are coping “one day at a time” in the wake of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis earlier this year.
The Duffys took part in this year’s Snohomish County Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday in Everett. Jennie Duffy held a blue flower pinwheel, a symbol that she’s adjusting to life with the illness.
More than 100 people gathered in Boxcar Park on the waterfront to raise awareness for the cause – one of many imperfect strategies to deal with the pain of the disease.
“Just take it as it comes,” said Bob Duffy, 74. He lives on Whidbey Island, and his wife, 78, recently moved into Mukilteo Memory Care. There, she’s had a chance to make some friends and relax, he said.
As part of the walk’s “Promise Garden” opening ceremony, participants lift up their flowers with emblematic colors: blue for patients, yellow for caregivers, orange for supporters of the cause and — by far the dominant hue in the crowd – purple for those who have lost loved ones who had Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
“The population is aging. So more and more people are showing up with this,” said Sue Mitchell, a 66-year-old Arlington resident whose grandmother, mother and three aunts all died with the illness. “And so I think more families are realizing this is something we need to do something about.”
Mitchell walked with Dale Hazapis, 66, of Seattle, and Judy Ching, 68, of Mukilteo — cousins, there to honor their fathers, Satoshi and Hajime Hirata.
“It’s an ugly disease,” Mitchell said. “And I think it’s harder on those loved ones than it is the people that have it.”
“They forget,” Ching added, in agreement.
“They get to the point, at least, where they don’t know who anybody is anymore,” Mitchell said, “but you still have to watch them sink deeper into that black hole.”
The three of them wore photos of their loved ones, along with their team’s name for the walk: “Uh… I forgot.”
While some get by on humor, others get by on hope.
Bruce Holroyd, 64, said he became an Alzheimer’s activist in 1995, after his mother-in-law was diagnosed. His father later died with the disease.
“We’ve got to turn over every rock to find the cause and to find a way of slowing it down, to eventually stop the disease in its tracks,” said Holroyd, who lives in Anacortes. “It’s been heartening to see a lot of research dollars put into this … and more and more people are getting involved with it.”
At the federal level, funding for Alzheimer’s research has increased from about $400 million, when Holroyd and his wife got involved, to more than $3 billion a year, he said. He now serves as the Alzheimer’s Association ambassador to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, and works with other lawmakers to bring attention to the cause.
“I don’t want my kids to go through what my wife and I have gone through over the last 30 years,” he said. “Seeing my dad in a wheelchair for almost six years of his life, having to be fed by hand by someone else feeding him over the last years of his life — it’s not a way to live.”
More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, which hosts the annual walk. That number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million by 2050.
“When I began with the association in 2010, there was not anything on the horizon in terms of a new treatment, a therapy, a cure,” said Jim Wilgus, executive director of the association’s Washington state chapter.
“And we are rapidly moving to that space where there is going to be a mix of treatments and therapies, he said, “giving people hope that living with Alzheimer’s can be extended amid a continued good quality of life — both for the person with the disease, but also those around them.”
While there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, there are treatments for symptoms and some drug options that might slow the course of the disease.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted accelerated approval to a drug called Aducanumab, sold under the brand name Aduhelm, as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. According to the association, it’s the first FDA-approved therapy to “address the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease.”
In late September, pharmaceutical companies announced promising early results in a clinical trial for another potential treatment drug, Lecanemab.
“Not any one of these is going to be a total solution,” Wilgus said.
But innovations in treatments, he said, combined with other therapies might be enough to buy some families time: for one last trip, a grandchild’s wedding, or a final season of Seattle Seahawks football.
In the Promise Garden, there’s one color that’s purely symbolic.
One day, Wilgus and others hope, the white flower will honor survivors of the disease.
Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.
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