By KAITLYN EVENER, The Republic
COLUMBUS — More than 550 people are expected to take part in the Columbus Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an effort to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research, care and support. They’ll see something new take place during the Promise Garden ceremony.
The walk begins with the ceremony at 1:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2 at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St.
Dennis Kurttila, of Franklin, Tennessee, will perform a special tribute of his song “I Signed Up for This,” which he wrote for his wife Wendy. The couple have family connections to the greater Columbus area.
Wendy Kurttila, 54, was diagnosed three years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s — a form of the disease that affects people younger than 65 — but she has been suffering from it for about five years.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the nation and the most common form of dementia, affecting more the 110,000 people and their 334,000 caregivers in Indiana alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I thought it was important that the song be written because sometimes Alzheimer’s causes people to change directions in their life,” Kurttila said. “I thought it was important to say, ‘You know, I signed up for this; for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And I really meant that.'”
Signs of the disease getting worse were apparent when Wendy Kurttila got lost on a trip from Wyoming to Indiana on personal business as she tried to connect with Dennis and her mother, Lari Aslan, who was also suffering from Alzheimer’s. Medical tests confirmed the disease’s progression, and Wendy had to be prohibited from driving within weeks of her diagnosis. Dennis Kurttila had to assume the role of caregiver for his wife.
“As the caregiver, you become the person who does the laundry and cooks the meals and helps give baths and getting dressed,” he said. “For years and years, she did the laundry and the meals, and its my turn now.”
And though Dennis Kurttila said his wife is doing the hard work as the one who has been diagnosed, he seeks to fill in the gaps. While the disease is terrible, he said, they have decided to relish the time together by doing everything as a couple.
Many Walk to End Alzheimer’s participants are walking in memory or support of loved ones who have been diagnosed with or died from the disease. One local team, “Reminisce,” is honoring four family members, including Wendy Kurttila and Aslan.
The eight-person team was created by Diane Davern after speaking with Teresa Waltman, who is Wendy Kurttila’s sister. Davern and Waltman live in Nashville, Indiana.
Davern hopes to spread word about the disease and that caregivers are not alone. She also walks for her own mother, Margaret Koehler, and mother-in-law, Sadako (Deko) Davern, who died Sunday night.
“I have watched these strong, independent women now struggle with everyday life,” Davern said.
Diane Davern, who knows Dennis and Wendy Kurttila and considers them family, is happy Dennis will be able to perform and make the experience more personal and emotional, although it already has great meaning to many participants. Waltman admitted she cries every time she watches the YouTube video of the song. This is her first time participating in the walk.
“It means so much to me because two people that I love very much and have been very close to are no longer with me. They may be here physically, but not mentally,” Waltman said.
The walk will be especially emotional for the team as Aslan, 73, died Sept. 19 after spending the weekend surrounded by those she loved, Diane Davern said. Just six days later, Sadako Davern, 82, died with her sons by her side.
“Lari, along with so many others, is why we as a team have fought to raise money to find an end to this horrible disease,” Diane Davern said.
Columbus Walk to End Alzheimer’s
When: 1:15 p.m. Sunday, starting with the Promise Garden ceremony and followed by the walk.
Where: Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St., Columbus.
Why: To raise funds for Alzheimer’s research, care and support. The walk, which takes place in many communities and states, is the largest fundraising and awareness event for the disease.
Register: Online at alz.org/walk. Registration will be available the day of the event beginning at noon. Participants are encouraged to start or join a team by visiting alz.org/indiana/walk.
Notable: Participants can choose between the 1- or 3-mile walks. Those who have raised at least $100 will receive a 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer’s T-shirt. Complimentary food, drinks and family friendly activities will be provided.
Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. It is a progressive disease and memory loss may be mild in the beginning stages, but individuals in later stages lose the ability to respond to their environment, converse and perform everyday tasks. The survival range is anywhere from four to 20 years, but those who have been diagnosed tend to live an average of eight years after symptoms become noticeable to others.
While the greatest risk factor is increasing age, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Early onset Alzheimer’s, which affects about 5 percent of people with the disease, appears in those in their 40s and 50s.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but researchers are actively searching for one. There are treatments available that can slow the progression of the disease, albeit temporarily.
— Source: Alzheimer’s Association