Alzheimer's Disease casts a wide shadow. It affects not just the person with the disease but family, friends, and caretakers as well. Alzheimer's is responsible for 60 to 80 percent of dementia-related cases, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
"It has been painful for our family to come to grips with how this disease can rob someone of their life by slowly chipping away at the person they have become," says Trey Ramirez, whose grandfather and uncle both succumbed to Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's - a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior - mostly affects people age 65 and older, but also affects younger people. Approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 suffer from younger-onset Alzheimer's. Symptoms of the disease develop slowly; they then worsen over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with routine daily tasks.
Katherine Farshler describes her mother Alexis as "a beautiful, vibrant, happy, and eternally optimistic woman." Then in December 2014, Alexis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, becoming one of the 58 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease today.
"My sisters and I didn't know anything about the warning signs, and she was highly functional in many ways, so she went undiagnosed for more than 10 years," Farshler recalls.
One of the early signs is difficulty remembering new information. As it progresses into later stages, people begin to struggle with holding conversations and responding to their environment. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's or other dementias.
Despite the hardships that come with Alzheimer's, there is hope. The Alzheimer's Association is a leader in care, support, and research. Its mission - to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
The month of June is an important part of that mission, as it strives to raise awareness through "Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month" (ABAM) initiatives. Throughout June, people are urged to wear purple, the color of the Alzheimer's Association.
In addition, people in the Austin-area like Trey Ramirez and Katherine Farshler will be participating in "The Longest Day," a global campaign where people all over the world participate in a fundraising of their choice to help raise funds and awareness.
The Longest Day ties in with June 21, the summer solstice, or the day with the most light. It is a unique opportunity for people to raise awareness about Alzheimer's and fundraise through the activity of their choice. Anyone can get involved by picking an activity - from bowling to cooking to hiking to sewing - and turn it into a fundraiser to fight this dark disease.
Katherine Farshler, along with her husband and two kids, will be hosting a pancake breakfast for the second year. Growing up, every year for Mother's Day weekend, Katherine's family volunteered with a huge pancake breakfast with her grandparents' Rotary Club, so pancakes became an important part of their family.
Trey Ramirez's business, Spokesman Coffee, participates by donating a portion of sales of co-branded coffee bags to the Alzheimer's Association. They also set up an informational booth in their store to help with donations.
"It is encouraging that more people recognizing the urgency needed to start discussing, learning more about and hopefully one day solving this mental health crisis," says Ramirez. "I am thankful that the Alzheimer's Association and the Longest Day are making sure that we are all aware of the reach of the disease and are pushing forward a dialogue that could lead to a cure."
Other activities hosted by individuals, business owners, and Alzheimer's service-providers will be happening around the area. This will be the fourth year that Sarah Davison, director of Community Relations for Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services, hosts a community-wide event. Sarah, along with the support of over 90 community business partners and countless individuals, will be cooking and serving breakfast tacos until 10am, then burgers until sundown.
Many others across Central Texas communities will be doing things as they try to help reach the ultimate goal - eliminating Alzheimer's.
To get involved with The Longest day, visit www.alz.org/thelongestday.
Find more information about Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness month at www.alz.org/abam.
If you would like to learn more about the Alzheimer's Association and its efforts across Central Texas, visit https://www.alz.org/texascapital.