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University of Mary Washington president Rick Hurley knows what it's like to watch a family affected by Alzheimer's disease.
So when Jennifer Reynolds, who runs the annual "Walk to End Alzheimer's" awareness event at Mary Washington Healthcare, approached him about helping, he jumped at the chance to offer UMW's Fredericksburg campus as the location and becoming honorary chair of the event.
"It's troubling, emotional to see your mother slowly slipping away," Hurley said.
He said he first became aware that something was wrong when his mother, asking him to hand her a spoon, pointed at the utensil and could not remember what it was called.
Then, at a family reunion held by his sister, his mother had trouble recalling who he was.
"I could tell," he said. "She was staring at me and thinking, 'Who is this person?' Then, after 30 minutes, she said 'Richard'--she didn't like the nickname 'Rick'--'oh my God,' and actually recognized me."
He said she was a bright, active woman before being diagnosed with Alzheimer's in her mid-60s.
The annual Alzheimer's walk set for Saturday, Sept. 29, on the Fredericksburg campus, is part of the Alzheimer's Association's nationwide fundraising event and is designed to create awareness in each of the localities where it is held.
Reynolds, director of outpatient therapeutics at MWH, said the event will help break through misconceptions that most people hold about the disease. Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death and can occur at any age, she said.
"They think memory loss is a normal aging process," she said. "It's one thing to forget where your keys are. It's another to forget what they're used for."
The walk, she said, is for everyone touched by the disease.
Walkers, in teams, will complete a 1K or 3K course carrying flowers that represent their connection to the disease. Those who have Alzheimer's will receive a blue flower, caregivers will carry yellow, those who have lost someone to the disease will have purple and all others supporting the cause will carry orange.
There will also be an awareness table, an ask-an-expert table, a geriatric case worker and an elderly-law attorney at the event.
In addition to sponsoring the walk at the school and being honorary chairman of the event, Hurley will walk the 1K route. He also will give a speech, which he said will be in support of Alzheimer's research.
"It's a horrible disease," he said. "The U.S. is better than this disease and we can find a cure or at least a way to prevent it."
He hopes that students will get involved with the cause, too.
"Our students are totally engaged in a variety of activities and causes," he said. "This is a good way to increase awareness and raise a significant amount of money."
Recent cancer walks on the Fredericksburg campus raised more than $60,000.
Hurley said it would be heartwarming if a group of students embraced this walk like those who are active with Relay For Life, an annual event to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976
To register, go to alz.org/grva and click on the "Walk to End Alzheimer's" icon.
Onsite registration on Sept. 29 is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m.
For more information call 540/370-0835.