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Walkers take to the streets at The Collection to end ALZ. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard— The Collection at River Park was the place to be, Aug 28, as the Walk to End Alzheimer's (ALZ) came off without a hitch and was a classic example of people coming together to help others.


The two-mile walk raised $80,757 to date and featured families coming together to support those who continue to battle the disease daily.


Walkers carried Promise Garden Flowers in blue, representing someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia, purple, for people who lost someone to the disease, yellow for people who support and care for those suffering from the disease and orange for everyone who supports the cause and shares the vision of a world without Alzheimer's. 


The walk takes place in more than 600 communities across the United States and is the world's largest event that raises money and awareness of the disease. Proceeds fund care support and research to find a cure.


The big crowd, all dressed in purple, enjoyed camaraderie, snacks, music, and lots of fun while learning that work continues to battle ALZ.


Alzheimer's Association California Coast Chapter Board Chair Teresa Valko said about 10 years ago; the Memory Walk became the Walk to End Alzheimer's because it is more than just memory.


"We want to address Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by raising funds for awareness in this fight," she said. "That's what the walk is all about."


Her mother lives with late-stage Alzheimer's, she said, and she will be the eighth person her family lost to the disease.


"On her side, we have a 100 percent occurrence rate," she said. "She's already lost both of her siblings, her mother, all of her siblings and her father before that. I am a motivated volunteer."


Scientists are learning about the pathology in the brain involved with ALZ, Valko said, including the mechanisms and proteins inside the mind.


"It's so exciting right now, and we have so many researchers working on this disease on a scale and in a way that has never happened before," she said. "It's an exciting time to be a part of this movement and a part of the fight. We are starting to see the fruition of all our work coming to a head. We're learning more about what we can do to lower our risk. Pretty soon, we are going to learn what we can do to bring an end to this disease, all together."


It saddens her seeing so many people who get touched by the disease and the numbers continually increasing.


"They will increase every year until we have a way to prevent it, treat it or cure it," she said. "The public's recognition of this disease and willingness to be vocal about it helps us to drive our mission to have a world without Alzheimer's. We see that in the walk, every year."


Many families find themselves in a crisis involving a loved one, Valko said, which brings the dangers of Alzheimer's to the forefront. That person can be in a compromised level of safety.


"It needs to be a community effort," she said. "It starts at home with the close caregivers and understanding the person living with ALZ and how their brain functions in this new process.  Being able to communicate with them effectively and understand where the difficulties can be for that person. As a community, we need to understand that these people are still part of our neighborhood, our community and still live."


She wants people to recognize and embrace people living with Alzheimer's, making them more comfortable, and make them part of the world.


There are times when someone living with Alzheimer's will adopt an affectation as their personality changes.


"It's hard to say what drives a change in personality, but it is not uncommon," she said. 


People living with Alzheimer's aren't the only ones facing a change. There are 14 million unpaid caregivers and family members, that must care for loved ones, daily.


"At the Alzheimer's Association, we offer services for those caregivers, and it starts many times with support groups," she said. "We have educational services for those caregivers, classes, and classes about Alzheimer's Disease itself, what it is, and what to expect. We also have legal and financial planning classes and care consultations we do with families."


All of those services are free.


"That's why the walk is so important," Valko said. "The money we raise here today helps us provide those services to the public."


People who worry about whether or not they have Alzheimer's need to go to the website, ALZ.org, and read through the 10 signs of Alzheimer's.


"It explains what normal aging is, and what may be a sign of Alzheimer's," Valko said. "If there are signs you are experiencing, go to your physician, and get an assessment. It's better to know so you can get in front of the disease and get your planning in place."


Dietary changes are a huge focus in today's research. Mediterranean diets lower the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. The MIND diet reduces the threat by the most significant percentage. Foods in the MIND Diet include whole grains, berries, green, leafy vegetables, other vegetables, olive oil, poultry, and fish.


"Anything that addresses cardiovascular health is good for brain health," she said. "It makes sense because most of the blood your heart is pumping will go through your brain. They are all interconnected."


She credits the Alzheimer's Impact Association that allows the group to get funding from the NIH (National Institute of Health) approved quickly.


"We've done phenomenal things," she said. "In the last five years, we've more than quadrupled the amount of funding that goes into research. That's why all this great news is coming out right now." 


Orlando Calleros and Ricky Ojeda were trying to get people to sign petitions to get Congress to apply for more money to find a cure for Alzheimer's.


Calleros has Alzheimer's, and raising awareness and money is essential to him and his family.


"There are other families in my situation," he said. "I look forward to these events. Everybody who signs the petition that goes to Congress gets an opportunity to raise money to find a cure."


He was diagnosed five years ago, and it didn't take long after his daughter Brianna got involved with the Alzheimer's Association.


"After that, I followed," Calleros said. "I'm here, I go to all the events, and Brianna works for the Alzheimer's Association. I support her as much as I can."


He works hard every day to improve his quality of life.


"I eat well, I exercise and try to stay active," he said. "I try to read, but everything I read is gone 20 minutes later."


Ojeda does whatever his father-in-law needs.


"I love coming out here and having people fill out these forms to send to their Congressperson," he said. "My wife Brianna has been doing this for about two years, and I do what I can."


Betty and Doug O'Hara brought her dog Kahuna, and the family plans to walk with her mom Lupe who has stage 6 Alzheimer's.


"We're here to support the walk because it is personal for us," Betty said. "We're going to put her in the wheelchair, and she'll be able to participate."


She loves taking part in the walk and sometimes the days with Lupe are not happening.


"It's easy for people not to understand because it doesn't take a direct path with everyone who has it," she said. "It's an awful, unfair disease."


The disease teaches her family to live in the moment.


"Appreciate the small things," she said. "You don't feel alone when you are part of this community. Somebody understands you and supports research and awareness."


Oakmont at Riverpark Marketing Coordinator Laura Alvarez is proud to be part of the effort. Oakmont was an elite sponsor of the walk.


"We're trying to engage the community and be supportive of the Alzheimer's Association," she said. 


Oakmont has a social model of programs the company created for its residents, she said, which stimulates appetites, sparks activity and involves all residents emotionally and physically.


"We don't have activities just to keep them busy," she said. "We create activities for them to be creative and continue to have that opportunity to enjoy life."


Residents feel vital and like a part of the community.


"We pride ourselves on that," she said. "We pride ourselves on developing those programs. Whether it is music, and how do we involve them, or how do we create a scenario where they can be a part of it."


Alvarez has a Master's degree in Public Policy Management from USC, and she feels her purpose in life is helping others.


"Being a part of Oakmont has given me the ability to help our seniors," she said. "At times, our senior community gets forgotten. I love the opportunity Oakmont gives me to change anywhere I can be at."


She has been with the company for seven years traveling from community to community, and she remains in contact with a lot of residents from other communities.


"Anytime I have the opportunity to go back and say hi," she said. "I'm only 28, and it helps me see life from a different perspective."


Oakmont is opening a new facility in Oxnard in 2020.


"We're excited," she said, "We have a lot of reservations already, and the community has welcomed us, and there is a need."


Tom Cronley from Edward Jones is a grand champion for the event, and he was pleased to be walking with his daughter Marin.


"The whole event is to raise money for Alzheimer's, and we raised $2,150 for our team, and it got us into the champion's club," Tom said. "We're a national sponsor for the Alzheimer's Association, and our branch realizes that people are affected by this."


Edward Jones builds relationships, he said, and they make sure their clients do well through financial management.


"What Alzheimer's does is the exact opposite," he said. "It destroys wealth, and it's expensive to battle this. It destroys relationships you have with people your whole life."


Marin came armed with her Fitbit and planned to get her steps in during the walk.


"I read on the sign back there it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States," she said. "It's big and needs to be stopped." 


Looking forward, people and families facing this disease need to know they are not alone.


"That's why we do things like this walk, to raise awareness," Valko said. "People not only learn about the disease, but they learn about the good work of the Alzheimer's Association, and what we are doing in this fight. They learn what we are doing to support those living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers."


People who want to become involved should reach out.


"We are always looking for volunteers, and people who want to be part of our events," Valko said. 


To join the fight, visit ALZ.org.