Saturday, July 12, 2008

From Memory Walk to Memory Talk

“I want to go to the Memory Walk because I’m having trouble with my memory,” Jim said. He had spotted a small ad about the upcoming walk in the Sedalia Democrat. I hadn’t mentioned the walk but had already registered and raised $400. I thought Jim wouldn’t want to go because it was for Alzheimer’s.

When the doctor told Jim he had probable Alzheimer’s, Jim’s reaction was, “I guarantee you, I do NOT have THAT!” I didn’t want to believe it either, but what began as memory glitches had developed into gaping deficits. By Memory Walk time, Jim was on Aricept, but it made him sick and he resented taking an Alzheimer’s drug.

We arrived at Liberty Park, expecting a crowd of walkers. We joined Helen and Chuck from Slater, Penny and Joetta from the Mid-Missouri Chapter, and Penny’s German shepherd, Vicky, beneath the small shelter.

Helen, an energetic, vivacious 70ish woman had organized the walk because the Association couldn’t find anyone in Sedalia to do it. She toted a hunter’s horn, and was raring to go.

We received tee-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, cups, and water bottles. I donned my purple tee-shirt, but Jim insisted on wearing his cowboy hat and denim shirt. We waited. Walk time arrived, and no one else showed up.

Our small group headed toward the downtown area. Helen blew her horn, and we collected donations from the few people we met on the street and most of the downtown businesses. It was hot, and Jim began to sweat, but he was a real trouper and wanted to continue the walk. Helen swooped into the VFW Hall on Ohio Street. The veterans asked her to blow her hunter’s horn, and the sound bugled throughout the building.

Jim collected the largest donation of the day from Wilken’s Music Store, where he was a regular customer. He was excited about people giving us contributions and with no concept of the value of money, pocket change was just as exciting to him as ten-dollar bills. In all, the Sedalia Walk earned about $600 that year

The Mid-Missouri Chapter asked me to organize the 1999 walk. I had never been involved in community service, and this was a giant step for me. The Sedalia Memory Walks were successful initially due to family support. Eventually the walk was embraced by our entire community. My passion carried me through five years as coordinator. Our six walkers mushroomed into 444 walkers who contributed $36,000.

The decision to become the Memory Walk Coordinator changed my life. Throughout Jim’s illness, being an Alzheimer’s Association volunteer gave me a sense of purpose and became my lifeline. The Mid-Missouri Chapter staff and Board gave me a Kleenex to dry my eyes and inspired me on my life’s greatest mission. Over the past ten years, I’ve been a primary caregiver, a support group facilitator, an Alzheimer’s Board Member and Assembly Delegate, a spokesperson, and active advocate for people with Alzheimer’s and their families.

I’m not telling you these things so you will think I’m a giving person; I have received so much more than I’ve ever given. Jim developing early onset dementia was my life’s greatest heartbreak, but this tragedy gave birth to my greatest blessings.

Being an Alzheimer’s volunteer, I’ve met amazing people, made life-long friends, and had opportunities I never dreamed could be possible. I share my experiences through Memory Talk presentations and book projects. I see sunshine breaking through the giant shadow of Alzheimer’s.

Every journey begins with one step, so make sure your step is in the right direction. May you walk the Memory Walk and talk the Memory Talk to make the world better for the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s.

To find a Memory Walk near you, call your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter or visit and click on your state on the map. You don’t have to be an athlete. Our top fundraiser for years called all her friends and never left her home. If you prefer email, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Kintera makes fundraising easy.

For information on Memory Talk presentations, visit, and click on the Alzheimer's Speaker link. Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love available at,, and selected Missouri Barnes and Noble stores.

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