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Efforts mobilize for October's Walk to End Alzheimer's

WILLMAR -- Organizers of a Walk to End Alzheimer's Oct. 1 in Willmar hope to raise several thousand dollars for research and services. But more than this, they want to increase local awareness of a disease whose incidence continues to rise.

A national campaign launched Wednesday for the Walk to End Alzheimer's, which will be held in towns across the U.S. this fall. All told, millions of dollars are expected to be raised.

The event in Willmar on Oct. 1 is one of 16 hosted by the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and one of three new Alzheimer's walks to be added in the state this year.

Local teams are in the process of being recruited.

A team captain kick-off party will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 12 at the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Community members may start a team, join an existing team or register as an individual participant by visiting or call the Western Minnesota Regional Office of the Alzheimer's Association at 320-257-0699.

The goal is to enlist 300 walkers from the Willmar area and raise at least $16,500, said Carol Thelen, western Minnesota regional center director with the Alzheimer's Association Minnesota-North Dakota chapter.

"I'm certain we're going to be above that," she said. "We want as many people to show up the day of the walk as we can get."

The Walk to End Alzheimer's helps put a face on the disease and underscores the urgency for services and research funding, Thelen said. "This is about a lot more than raising money. It's about raising awareness."

One of the critical needs is to support families, she said.

It's estimated that more than two-thirds of people with Alzheimer's disease live at home, where they are cared for by family or friends.

Because the disease and other related forms of dementia often progress slowly, caregivers may spend years in this role, facing significant emotional and financial stress.

Resources and support can help them plan for what's ahead, Thelen said.

Education also can help develop what's known as dementia-competent communities -- towns that provide "a safe place for people with dementia to live," she said.

On the policy front, efforts are under way to collect the signatures of 100,000 Minnesotans over the next three years in support of a campaign to prepare the state by 2020 for a rise in the number of people with Alzheimer's.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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