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5K walk today for Alzheimer's support group
By Cara Tanamachi (from the Austin American-Statesman)

For the first time, Mary Ellen Sullivan will lace up her tennis shoes and join 600 others in a 5K Memory Walk this morning to raise money for the Greater Austin Alzheimer's Association.

For Sullivan, the walk, which will begin at 8:35 a.m. at the United Methodist Church, 1201 Lavaca St., is a tribute to her mother, an independent 81-year-old who was diagnosed with the disease 10 years ago.

"But I think I'm also looking for support and understanding," Sullivan said. "It will mean something special knowing that the person walking next to me has a loved one with Alzheimer's. That's important."

Alzheimer's, a terminal disease that robs people of memory and reasoning skills, is becoming more common as people live longer. While the disease affects on in 10 people age 65 and older, the rate of occurrence more than doubles for people 85 and older.

The disease affects the loved ones of patients in profound ways since they are often the ones with the responsibility of finding the best care. The walk is one way for survivors and relatives of Alzheimer's patients to come together for a common cause. Laura Bush, wife of Gov. George W. Bush, will lead the sixth annual walk, said Kim Rees, this year's volunteer walk organizer.

"We are estimating between 600 and 700 participants," she said. "From a money standpoint, we're already 130 percent over what we did last year, so we're expecting a very outstanding Memory Walk this year."

The walk raised about $75,000 last year, said Julie Johnson, director of the Greater Austin Alzheimer's Association.

For many Memory Walk participants, Sullivan's story is a familiar one. Her mother began exhibiting signs of forgetfulness that became severe after Sullivan's father died suddenly of a heart attack.

Finding care for her mother was a long and frustrating ordeal. After two failed attempts at assisted living facilities, Sullivan moved her mother to Barton House, a facility that cares exclusively for people suffering from Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association helped Sullivan find information about the disease and care facilities, as well as a support group whose members also have relatives suffering form Alzheimer's.

"I think we've come a long way, and there's more attention now for Alzheimer's," she said. "But we have a long way to go before we're at a point where every Alzheimer's patient gets the care they need."

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About this page: Article from the Austin American-Statesman on Alzheimer's disease by Barton House, an Alzheimer's care facility with locations in Austin, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, and Ft. Worth, Texas.

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