A crowd of almost 900 people created a sea of purple, yellow, blue and orange, raising multicolored pinwheels that spun in the warm, early-fall wind.
The pinwheels are emblematic of the Walk to End Alzheimers, hosted by the Long Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in East Meadow on Sept. 15. The 2.5-mile march through Eisenhower Park united those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, with participants holding purple pinwheels to commemorate loved ones.
Those who were caring for someone with the disease had yellow pinwheels. The blue ones were reserved for those with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder. The orange pinwheels were for those who have not been directly affected by the disease, but wanted to contribute to the cause. And a white pinwheel represented the goal of finding a cure.
Last year was the first Eisenhower Park walk and, this year, it grew roughly 30 percent in attendance, said Tinamarie Hardekopf, the director of the East Meadow and Babylon walks.
The goal of the Eisenhower Park walk, which drew were 875 participants and 128 teams, was to raise $275,000. The organization accrued roughly $209,000 as of Monday at noon, although money was still being collected.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a national organization with 80 chapters and is the largest private funder of Alzheimer’s research next to the American and Chinese governments.
“Our ultimate plan is to find a cure,” Hardekopf said. “But if we could slow the progression of the disease, we have more time to find a cure.”
Hardekopf pointed to a recent breakthrough in Alzheimer’s disease research that found a direct connection between heart health and brain health. In other words, a healthy diet and lifestyle will lead to a healthier brain.
“Heathy eating, being active, excercising and also keeping the mind healthy by doing puzzles and activities is the best way to prevent and cope with the illness,” she said.
More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, and some 16 million more are caring for them, according to the organization. It is the sixth-leading cause of death nationwide, and it cannot be cured, prevented or slowed.
Alyson Irom, of Roslyn, and her brother, Andrew Klein, see the impact of the disease firsthand in caring for their father, Stanley Klein, who was diagnosed roughly eight years ago.
“Watching my father deteriorate in front of my eyes is hard,” she said in an interview with Connoisseur Media prior to the walk. “The only positive thing that I could possibly think about with this disease is that my father is not suffering. He has no idea that he’s going through what he’s going through. The one’s that are suffering the most are my mom [and] my siblings and we are there as often as we can be.”
Irom, with her team, Stan’s Fans, is the walk’s top donor and raised a total of $26,724.
The Alzheimer’s Association held its first fundraiser, which was called the Memory Walk, in 1989, and has since organized hundreds of walks across the country. On Sept. 28, the Long Island chapter will hold another walk at Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank.
All donations to the Alzheimer’s Association go toward medical research and services for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. All programs offered are free and those seeking help could start by calling the nonprofit’s 24/7 helpline, at (516) 272-3900, to be matched with a social worker and any necessary resources.