Friday, December 13, 2013
By SUSAN M. COVER Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - Jeannie Conley lost her father to Alzheimer's disease in February.
• 37,000 people in Maine have Alzheimer's disease.
• It takes five to seven people to care for one Alzheimer's patient.
• The help-line number is 800-272-3900.
Source: Alzheimer's Association of Maine
On Saturday, she and seven other members of the Conley Clan walked to remember him.
"It's a horrible, horrible, horrible disease," Conley said as she prepared for the walk in the Buker Community Center gymnasium. "We hope there's an end to it sometime."
Conley's father, Ed Conley of Skowhegan, was a former selectman who lived with the disease for five years.
The Conley Clan, which raised nearly $2,000, was among an estimated 200 people who walked 2.8 miles Saturday to raise awareness and money to fight the disease.
Despite the cold and rain -- it was 42 degrees and drizzling just before the morning walk -- the group wanted to be visible as they marched down Western Avenue, by the State House and back up Capitol Street.
"It has such tremendous impact on entire families," said Laurie Trenholm, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Maine.
Trenholm said she and others in Maine feel a sense of urgency about the disease because Maine has the oldest population in the country and Alzheimer's is expected to afflict growing numbers of baby boomers as they age. Now, 37,000 people in Maine have the disease, and 5.4 million are living with it nationwide.
Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that destroys memory and thinking skills.
Among those participating in the walk Saturday was Auburn native Julie Parisien, an Olympian and World Cup skier who now works as a nurse, said Gary Crocker, chairman of the walk in Augusta. Other caregivers took part in the walk as well.
"Given their circumstances, I want to make sure if they just smile once in a day, then I've done something to make that day pleasurable for them," said nurse supervisor Deb French, who works at Glenridge, a long-term care facility in Augusta run by MaineGeneral Health. "Everyone has their knack, and mine happens to be with anyone with Alzheimer's and dementia."
The number of people with Alzheimer's in Maine is expected to grow from 37,000 to more than 53,000 by 2020, according to a draft of the Maine State Plan on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias. The task force was created by legislation passed in 2011 and is charged with putting a plan in place to accommodate the growing need.
"It's the sixth leading cause of death, with no cure and no way to stop the progression," Trenholm said.
The money raised by the walk helps pay for a hotline (800-272-3900), support groups, conferences, a "safe return" program and other supports for families.
Hayden Elwell, 13, of Readfield, was among the walkers.
"My grandma has Alzheimer's," he said. "It's hard seeing her go through that."
Hayden's friend, Nathan Delmar, 13, of Manchester, said he wanted to support his friend and others coping with the disease.
"It's something in my lifetime that maybe can be cured," he said.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at: