In this undated photo, Mark Perry (left) enjoys a laugh with his mother, Ann Perry, at home in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP File Photo)
In the mainstream, Alzheimer’s disease is known only as “the disease that causes the elderly to lose their memory.” But for those who have seen the disease up close and personal, the reality is much more daunting.
Mark Perry is one such person.
Perry’s mother, Ann Perry, was diagnosed seven years ago, and time has taken its toll.
Perry likens it to before and after pictures of soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan.
“It reminded me a bit of what I see in the mirror every day,” he explained. “I know I haven’t had to go through the horrors of what our soldiers have gone through, and I haven’t had the stress of literally fearing for my life on a daily basis, but in the mirror, I can see what the long, drawn-out battle has done to me and the toll it has taken.”
The toll Perry speaks of comes from the hours, days and years of watching a loved one slowly deteriorate. It comes from taking care of a loved one who has lost the most vital of human abilities.
Memory, thinking, judgment, language, problem-solving, personality and movement all begin to dissipate, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Caretakers of Alzheimer’s know they are facing an uphill battle against this incurable disease.
But some, including Perry, are waging their own war.
“We are fighting a disease that knows no enemies and has never been defeated,” he said. “We fight to keep our loved ones safe from harming themselves, wandering off, or simply from falling down. We fight to keep them involved while fighting to protect their dignity. We fight our frustrations in them not knowing who we are.
“We fight the urge to argue when they want to go home even though they are already in their own home. We fight to convince them to do the basics of daily life like changing their clothes when they have been wearing the same clothes day after day. We fight to keep it together when they tell us the same thing every five minutes. We fight to not break down each time they go into the hospital to battle some other illness that could end their lives. We fight to not give up when we are at our wits end and the day has just begun.”
Perry is not alone. And he can take solace in knowing his fight is not in vain.
Once a year, in more than 600 communities, family and friends walk to end Alzheimer’s. And for the last 14 years, Murfreesboro has been one of those communities.
Michelle Thomas, the newly appointed special events coordinator for Murfreesboro’s Walk to End Alzeimer’s benefit, said she is happy to be giving back to the community.
“I wanted to do something positive with my life,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she also wants people to understand the severity of the issue.
“More than five million people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the U.S., and at least 400,000 in the Tennessee area,” she said. “But, a lot of people aren’t getting properly diagnosed, or people are being undiagnosed, so a lot of people suffer in silence.”
Although there are some who are suffering in silence, caretakers of Alzheimer patients need to know that they don’t have to, she said.
“We hope they realize that the Alzheimer Association is available for people to take advantage of – the support groups that we have, or the 800 number, which is 24 hours, seven days a week for people who need assistance,” Thomas said. “We want to create awareness in our community to let people know that there are other people to help them when they’re going through a tough time.”
Raising awareness and funds for research is what the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is all about.
This year’s walk will take place Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Gateway Island and Trail in Murfreesboro. All funds raised will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.
The hope for Thomas is to build on the success of last year’s walk, which raised a whopping $132,000.
There are a few different ways to support the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Buying the “purple, silicone bracelets and the forget-me-not flowers” at registers of participating retail stores is one way, Thomas said. But perhaps the best way, is just to go to www.alz.org/walk and donate. For Murfreesboro’s walk, just type in a local zip code and go.
Perry, who has his own team for his mom, The Memory Joggers, said he understands that not everyone will be able to help out financially.
Two of his favorite support groups, he said “require nothing more than a click.”
The first is an organization pushing the government to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. The other is a grassroots campaign striving to get an Alzheimer’s postage stamp in circulation.
And don’t be surprised when the Rutherford County Courthouse and the rest of downtown Murfreesboro are covered in purple. They’re going purple the first week of September as a reminder of the upcoming walk.
With only a few weeks away, Thomas is encouraging everyone to come down to the walk, including kids and pets. Bounce houses, Zumba, face painting, air brush tattoos, and paws for a cause leashes and bandanas for the walking dogs, are just a few of the things residents can expect to see.
“It’s a time for hope and a time for the positive things we’re doing in the community,” Thomas said. “We want to celebrate that, and not have it be a time for sadness.”