Hope stays strong with Walk to End Alzheimer’s

On and off rainstorms couldn’t dampen the spirits of hundreds of people participating in the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sept. 16 held at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

All tax-deductible funds raised through the walk go to care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

On the day of the walk, UPS’ Todd Field was filled with supporters sporting purple t-shirts, blowing bubbles and making new friends.

Participants received a colorful garden flower signifying their connection to the disease. Blue flowers were for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia,  purple flowers were for people who have lost a loved one to the disease, a yellow flower signified caregivers, and orange flowers were for everyone who supports the cause and vision of a world without Alzheimer’s.

Kids rode on parents’ shoulders, well-behaved dogs stretched to the end of their leashes, and two miniature horses showed up.

There are 5.6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, making it the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops the disease.

Caregiving can be an exhausting and lonely existence for the 16.1 million Americans providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Susan Gardner is a caregiver for her husband, David, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago at the age of 55.

“David is now 61, and last fall his neurologist said he was in the last stages of the disease,” said Gardner, who participates in the walk each year and is one of the top fund-raisers for the Tacoma event. This year she raised $2,300.

Another Tacoma walk participant, Mari Hagen, team captain of Helen’s Heroes—the team name in honor of her mom, who died from the disease–has raised over $10,000 in the last four years, including $4,400 this year.

Hagen, a retired social worker who was her mother’s caregiver, said she worked with many families facing the challenges of a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

On the day of the walk last month, she showed up with her crew of supporters all

“She was the best mom, and I miss her every day,” said Hagen.


Carrie McBride, director of marketing and communications for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Washington chapter, said the association is the largest non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world.

“It is too late for the loved ones of a lot of the people who walk, but they have hope for the future that they won’t be affected or, if they are, a cure may be available. It raises awareness – when you see thousands of people wearing purple, people pay attention,” she said.

McBride said the disease has affected her family, as well, and a diagnosis leaves family members feeling helpless.

“There is no cure for now, but the walk gives us a sense of purpose,” she said.

People in need of support or searching for information can call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900

“People can call for any reason – it doesn’t have to be a crisis,” said McBride.

That 24-hour helpline was a big help to Deb Dennison, the Senior Services program manager for Lutheran Community Services Northwest. Dennison’s son suffered for years before being diagnosed at age 23 with dementia.

“The Alzheimer’s Association gave me a lifeline,” she said.

This year’s walk in Tacoma raised more than $200,000. Donations can be made until the Dec. 31 deadline at alz.org/walk.

“I feel like our event coordinator for this year knocked it out of the park, building relationships and getting sponsors,” said McBride.

Walks that were held in Bremerton on Sept. 8 and in Seattle on Sept. 29 raised $63,514 and $349,825, respectively, at last count.


Joan Cronk, who wrote this story, is a freelance writer from Puyallup.

Mari Hagen (holding the sign) and her team, that was named for her mother, who died from Alzheimer’s, helped raise money in the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Tacoma. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)