By Jalen Wade
OXON HILL – Alzheimer’s disease is heavily prevalent within Prince George’s County. Because of this, county residents are taking steps to fight back against the disease.
On Sept. 14, the county hosted one of the first 2019 “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” that will take place throughout the county. Held at the National Harbor, residents walked in their purple shirts during the cloudy day, showing their support for finding a cure for the disorder. Participants either pre-registered online or in person, with a ceremony before the three-mile walk.
According to the event sponsor, Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is a form of dementia that affects one’s memory, thinking and behavior. As time goes on, symptoms get worse, interfering one’s abilities to do daily tasks like carrying a conversation. There are 14,000 people in Prince George’s living with the disease, according to the Association.
“My mother-in-law is with so many fighting this disease and were fighting with her together and we’re all gonna beat this disease together,” Master of Ceremonies and ABC 7 News Television Reporter John Gonzales said. “I feel it in my heart and I feel it in my bones.”
Members of Prince George’s County government also participated in the event including both current County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and former Executive Rushern Baker. Both partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to serve as honorary co-chairs for the event.
The topic of Alzheimer’s disease impacts Baker directly as his wife, Christa Beverly, was diagnosed with the disease a decade ago.
“It’s been a tremendous impact, I was fortunate that for the first eight years, I was county executive, so I had tremendous support from all the county residents and our family,” said Baker.
Before leaving office, Baker reached out to Walk for a Cure organizers to bring the event to the county. Since he has left office, his focus has moved to advocate for a cure.
“What we find is the fastest growing population with Alzheimer’s is African American females and Latino men, so in the county, we want to make sure African American females and Latino men are aware that help is out there which is what the Alzheimer’s Association does,” said Baker.
Awareness was something that served a purpose during the opening ceremony. According to event officials, there are currently 110,000 people within Maryland living with Alzheimer’s. While some people see the disease as intimidating, Gonzalez said that the people in attendance for the walk showed enthusiasm and it had “never seen a fight like this either.”
People with the disease are not the only ones who are affected by it. There is a burden for the family members who must care for the family members with the disease. According to Gonzales, 293,000 individuals are serving as unpaid caregivers.
Waynette Tramell, 53, serves as the primary caregiver for her mother who was diagnosed with the disease four years ago. Tramell spoke on the difficulty that being a caretaker brings.
“The caregiver is doing a lot,” said Trammell. “They are dealing with an individual who is in pain, but they don’t know what kind of pain they’re in, and they have to figure it out.”
Some of the more heartbreaking things that Trammell felt people needed to be aware of was the memory loss and loss of pride that she saw occurring in those with Alzheimer’s. She said based on her experience, people with the disease grow agitated and often end up wanting to wander. Trammell gave credit to her faith for giving her strength to help her mother as well as county officials for their additional support.
“Its brought me closer to god. Its made my faith stronger; it gave me the courage and wisdom to fight for others,” said Trammel.
Other caregivers have been dealing with similar problems. Alsobrooks had to help care for her grandmother when she was alive and explained that difficulties arise when attempting to raise your children while taking care of your parents, called “sandwiching.”
The end of the ceremony closed with a message of hope for the future. Ceremonial pinwheel flowers were passed out, representing something in the “promise garden” to cure the disease.
Those who carried orange flowers represented those who support the cause while purple represented those who have someone close to them taken by the disease. The yellow flower was for caretakers, and blue flowers represented people who have the disease.
At the event, they introduced a new color: white which served as a symbol for the cure for the disease. As Alsobrooks held the white pinwheel flower high in the sky, those in attendance followed, creating a visual garden of hope before walking along the harbor.
“I am confident one day that we will add to our garden this flower that represents the survivors of Alzheimer’s,” said Gonzales.