Visitors to downtown Pensacola may have noticed the purple ribbons that adorn the many trees along Palafox Street. The ribbons symbolize the designation of June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month throughout the city.
“We’re very happy to part of the Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and we will be reading the proclamation on Thursday night,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson, who is expected to will read and sign the proclamation at tonight's (June 13) City Council meeting.
As part of the June observance, Robinson says he was glad to let local members of the Alzheimer’s Association turn the city purple.
“Gulf Coast Kids House does blue for a month; we’ve got Breast Cancer Awareness that wants to do October in pink,” he explained. “So we told Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness that you could do purple for June, so again, when you see purple realize that’s one of the colors there dealing with Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.”
Mayor Robinson says city leaders are working with local Alzheimer’s organizations, doing what they can to heighten awareness, while also striving to make Pensacola more accommodating for people to be able to work and take care of family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“I know I had two grandmothers that both had dementia,” Robinson shared. “You know it’s something I’ve experienced in my own family and I’m sure most other families have experienced. It’s a challenging disease that really tests families and what happens when you see loved ones get to that point where they have difficulty.”
Zachary Suggs is development manager for the Florida Panhandle chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and was part of a group of local advocates to meet with the mayor a few weeks ago about the proclamation.
“Right now there are about 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s,” Suggs said. “Here, locally, in our own state of Florida, there are 560,000 individuals that are affected. As of right now, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death. And, out of top ten leading causes of death, it’s the only one that can’t be slowed, prevented or cured.”
In addition to the purple ribbons, Suggs and other volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Association will be beefing up their usual Gallery Night presence in June. On Friday, June 21, they’ll gather at O’Riley’s Irish Pub on Palafox St. for their initiative, The Longest Day.
“It’s the summer solstice and basically, we use that day as a fundraising campaign for the Alzheimer’s Association. We like to say the longest day is the day that we fight,” Suggs said.
“So, on June 21st, we will have some volunteers at O’Riley’s in downtown Pensacola, out front, spreading information about Alzheimer’s disease, kind of some of the facts, what to do if you know you think a loved one may be having memory concerns and even raising funds.”
Leading up to the Friday evening culmination, The Longest Day participants will get other individuals to sponsor them as they undertake various fundraising activities, such as exercise, team sports, singing, arts and crafts, and parties.
When Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson signs the proclamation declaring June Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in the city, Brian LeBlanc will be there to witness it.
LeBlanc is an Alzheimer’s Association ambassador who helped to lobby for the decree, and he’s in the midst of his own struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. WUWF has been following his story.
He believes scientists have yet to develop drugs to treat, cure or even prevent Alzheimer’s because this disease is the most misunderstood.
“What happens to me on a daily basis, someone else that has the disease, something totally different could happen to them and then this person over here; it’s, it’s kind of like an individualized disease,” LeBlanc explained.
Additionally, he points to the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s, and the confusion he encounters as someone who – on most days - is still able to function as a public speaker and advocate for the fight against the disease.
“If you have Alzheimer’s, you’re automatically thrown into the category of someone that can’t do anything, that can’t think at all, cannot have a cognitive thought, can’t feed yourself, can’t go to the bathroom by yourself,” said LeBlanc of his frustration.
LeBlanc, who’s not yet 60, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when he was 54 years old. He says at this point, he has good days and bad ones, and periods of what he calls ‘fog’ - on any given day.
But, in the grand scheme of things, the month of June and this Thursday, in particular, will represent ‘good days’ that have been set aside to educate the community about Alzheimer’s.
The signing of the proclamation of June as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in Pensacola will take place during the council meeting, which is set to begin at 5:30 p.m.