The event held in November for the past 12 years, supports the programs and services available to Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and caregivers in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
“Dear Lord, we pray…for those who have died of Alzheimer’s disease, peace,” said Covenant Care event committee member Lois Sims as she read an Alzheimer’s prayer before the walk commenced.
She continued, “For those who are now victims of Alzheimer’s disease, dignity and comfort. For the Alzheimer’s disease caregivers, compassion and patience. For the Alzheimer’s disease families, strength and courage.”
For Sims, this is personal. For more than twenty years, she was a caregiver for her mother Rosa Webb. Sims said the family discovered they had a lot to learn when they jumped in to help beginning in 1987.
“Back then, we didn’t really know much about Alzheimer’s because you didn’t hear about it,” she recalled. “And, when we finally did, we attended a few support groups to kind of get us educated. And, you know just kind of like trial and error…I tell a lot of the caregivers, taking care of somebody with Alzheimer’s is like helping a child. There’s no manual for it. Common sense is what you have to have.”
One also has to have a lot of support.
Sims is leader of Team Hope, which consists of her family, including her sister Mamie Webb Hixon; friends; and members of her church. Team Hope was the largest team participating in the walk and raised the most money for the event, which generates an average of about $50,000 each year.
“The money raised here stays 100 percent local,” said Kellie Hardy. Hardy is a Covenant Care volunteer, co-chair of this year’s walk, and her family supported the event as a presenting sponsor.
“It goes to projects like educating our volunteers. It helps fund the Project Lifesaver. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It is like a watch band that Alzheimer’s patients wear.”
The Lifesaver bracelet has a beacon that helps local law enforcement locate those Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered off.
Hardy, who walked in memory of her grandmother Katie Hicks, says the funds raised also help to pay for another of Covenant Care’s most-requested services - respite care.
“Respite care is where a nurse can go in and relieve a caregiver, because often times the caregiver is forgotten when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” said Hardy, who noted the mourning process that she watched her mom go through while she caring for her grandmother. “That’s super important for Covenant is to help the caregivers just as much as they’re helping the patients.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for the nearly 6 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. The number of diagnosed individuals is projected to reach 14 million by 2050.
But, there is a new sense of hope, due to an infusion of funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research. That’s due to an increase of $425 million in the budget at the National Institutes of Health and a $50 million investment by billionaire Bill Gates.
“Research is going to affect all of us. Both of my in-laws were diagnosed and passed away having Alzheimer’s disease, so certainly we think about it as a family,” said Aaron West, vice president for the Covenant Care Foundation.
West pointed out that Covenant is actually working with the University of West Florida, helping to identify some of the participants for UWF’s clinical trials. He says research is important, but points out that Covenant’s main focus is the people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, here and now.
“What we know is that there are families that are living with it today, and that’s why we do what we’re doing today.”
For people like Lois Sims, who’ve seen loved ones fight and lose their battles with Alzheimer’s, they’re glad to celebrate their lives.
However, development of truly effective treatments is something they wish for; she wishes for.
“Whatever, you know, it takes, it’s been a long time coming,” declared Sims. “And, I hope that we’ll get there sooner rather than later as far as a cure, because Alzheimer’s is such a horrible disease.”
After her mother died in 2010, Sims established an Alzheimer’s ministry at her church, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Pensacola. The support group is now open to the public. Additionally, she shares her expertise as a Covenant Care volunteer. Details about services are available at choosecovenant.org.