Street Talk: Walking to stop Alzheimer’s

PHOTOS BY HEATHER RUELKE

Christina Hardman, Pittsford

RH: Tell me what’s going on here this morning.

CH: We’re getting together to support (the fight to stop) Alzheimer’s disease and walking for a cure. So we have a lot of local businesses coming together to support the Alzheimer’s association in the walk.

RH: So when you’re not here, what’s your involvement with Alzheimer’s disease? 

CH: I work for BAYADA hospice, and I’m the psycho-social manage, so I work with the social workers and spiritual counselors. We support a lot of clients who are struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and the end of life. Our goal is, really, to bring them joy and the end of their life, and that might be through music or through animals.

RH: I see you’ve got a couple of animals here. 

CH: I have my dogs Lucy and Brooke. Lucy’s done a couple of Alzheimer’s walks. This is Brooke’s first, so it’s a whole family event we all come together to support the Alzheimer’s Association. 

RH: From here, where does the walk go?

CH: It usually goes down to Merchant’s Row and then all the way around the big block to the gas station, Stewart’s, at the end, then all the way back.

RH: That’s a long walk!

CH: It’s a pretty long walk. That’s why you need a couple of dogs to support you. 

RH: I’ll bet they appreciate the exercise. Thank you, Christina.

Heather Ruelke, Center Rutland

RH: Heather, I see you at the library for years. How long have you been at the library?

HR: Nineteen years.

RH: Nineteen years! You know there are other jobs — well, that’s a great job, a good job over there.

HR (laughing): Yeah, I love it. I wouldn’t want to give it up. 

RH: Tell me what you’re doing out here this morning. What’s going on?

HR: I’m a longtime friend of Jeannie and Mike Stimpfel, and she is one of the organizers of this event, and she asked me last year to come and take photos for her because I kind of am an amateur photographer, just do it for my own enjoyment. And I couldn’t because I was working. But she remembered to ask me in advance, so this year I took the day off and I’m here to just get as many photos as I can of what’s going on. It’s amazing. There’s apparently teams, and there’s all kind of — there’s tents and everything. I can’t believe it, it’s amazing here. 

RH: About how many people would you estimate are out here and it hasn’t even started yet?

HR: Oh, my God, there’s got to be, what, 50? 75 people at least?

RH: I think 100.

HR: Yeah! A lot!

Amy Larson, Rutland

We think it’s a really good cause. My mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s. She’s passed away, so it’s important to my husband that we’re here today, and me. We’re going to walk, hopefully, the whole way. 

RH: That’s more than a mile, I think.

AL: I think it’s 2 miles, I believe. I wasn’t here last year. My husband was. I couldn’t be here, but if it’s the same route, we’ll be going down to Stewart’s and then up North Main Street, I believe, yeah, so we’re looking forward to it. And it’s a nice day!

RH: It’s a beautiful day!

Jeannie Stimpfel, Clarendon

Today is Saturday, the 7th of September, and we’re in Main Street Park for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and this is one of the main events of the Alzheimer’s Association for raising money. There’s over 600 walks across the nation, and we’re fortunate to have ours right here in Rutland, Vermont. 

RH: Do we foresee an end to Alzheimer’s any time soon?

JS: We’re waiting for that day, and if you stick around you might see something special today. We have different flowers in different colors that represent orange for someone who just supports the Alzheimer’s Association. And then there’s blue — blue means that person has Alzheimer’s. And then the purple is for someone who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer’s. Yellow is a caregiver or a care partner, and you’ll find that today — actually it started last year — there’s a white flower. And that is hope, and that is for our first survivor. The National Institute of Health has really stepped up thanks to advocacy the Alzheimer’s Association does. There’s also another group, called AIM, that advocates. They can go to Washingon and go to the hill and talk to senators and congressmen. They can go to Montpelier and talk to our representatives there, plugging away to get money, to get funds. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and because Vermont is an aging-population state, we do have a higher percentage per capita just because of the graying of our state, however, that’s one of the reasons Vermont has an Alzheimer’s Association office because they know that they need to be here. We also know there’s 13,000 people in the state of Vermont with Alzheimer’s.

RH: You don’t have to be aged to get Alzheimer’s.

JS: No. There’s different levels — early onset can be anyone 60 and younger. It’s not a disease, unfortunately, that just for a certain population. There are folks that are as young as 30 who have had it. My sister was diagnosed in her mid 60s. It spans all ages, but we’re fighting every day to get a cure, and the research and care is what the Alzheimer’s Association is all about.

RH: Well, thank you very much for all the work that you do. And let me ask you a question — do you think that this music hammering away at my eardrums is going to trigger any dementias of my own? 

JS: No, I don’t think so! And I have a feeling we rocked it out back in the day.

RH: Yeah, you’re right. The damage is done. 

JS: Whatever’s good for your heart is good for your brain — walk, stay engaged. You can visit alz.org the website where there’s a plethora of information. There’s a 24/7/365  number, 800 272-3900, that people can call, and you’ll talk with a master social worker. 

Ed Larson, Rutland

This is my third year coming to the walk for Alzheimer’s. My mother had dementia and Alzheimer’s, and passed away from it, and other members of the family, too. It’s on my wife’s side of the family, too, Amy, and one of the reasons we come is in memory of them, and hopefully one day soon there will be a first survivor of Alzheimer’s and that’s what it’s all about for us every year. This is a deep issue for us. It touches us all every year. We wouldn’t miss this. It’s important. Actually, I carry the purple flower for my mother, and I’ve got a selection of them that I put in my  vegetable garden every year just to remember because she liked the vegetable garden so much. It’s humble, but it’s important. And that’s what this is all about.

Ray Fish, Rutland

I came out this morning to recognize this terrible disease that people suffer. Hopefully, someday they’ll find a cure for it, and that’s why I’m here to donate and also to participate and to remember, not only today but every day of the year.

Interviews and photos by RH Alcott

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