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McDaniel leads way on Alzheimer's awareness

McDaniel College

Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 90,000 Americans in 2015 — that's just behind strokes, which killed more than 130,000, and ahead of diabetes, which killed just more than 75,000, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.

One thing that makes Alzheimer's different from anything else on the top 10 list of causes for morbidity is that Alzheimer's cannot be prevented, reversed or cured, according to Diane Martin, who heads up McDaniel College's Center for the Study of Aging. That's why raising awareness of Alzheimer's, and funds for research, is so important, she said.

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Martin and McDaniel students have been leading that charge in Carroll County for years, with the student-led Walk to End Alzheimer's disease, which returns on Oct. 8 for the eighth year running, and the Alzheimer's Symposium, to be held Oct. 12 and in its fourth year.

You know Alzheimer's. It's the disease that steals your loved ones away, one memory at a time. You watch for

The walk was started and is still organized by the McDaniel Gerontology Club, for which Martin is the faculty adviser, and takes place on the McDaniel campus. Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m. at the college's Kenneth R. Gill Stadium, and the walk itself starts at 9:30 a.m.

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"There are two walk locations: You can either walk the flat surface around the track, or a group of students will take people who want to be a little more adventurous on a tour of the campus," Martin said. "There are some really nice walking trails on campus."

No donation is necessary in order to participate in the walk, but they are appreciated, and all proceeds go to fund research and support services through the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, according to Martin, who said past walks have averaged between $1,500 to $2,000 for that cause.

Those are dollars that have an impact through institutions in Carroll's backyard, and a large part of the inspiration to continue the walk, according to Owen Long, a McDaniel sophomore and acting president of the Gerontology Club. Having worked in long-term care facilities in addition to studying gerontology at McDaniel, Long said he sees an imminent need for research on aging and related disease like Alzheimer's as the national, and local population, continues to age.

"We are actually very close to a center that does a lot of research on Alzheimer's disease, Johns Hopkins University," Long said. "We need to figure out what we're going to do and figure out how to keep people aging successfully longer. We need to change the models of aging a little bit."

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Research on Alzheimer's will be the topic of the keynote speaker at the Oct. 12 Alzheimer's Symposium. Martin has invited Johns Hopkins Medicine physician Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a neurologist with a doctorate in neuroscience who has been researching the effects of lifestyle on the aging brain.

"He's been doing some longitudinal research looking at how we stave off the progression of dementia," Martin said. "Right now there is no cure and we cannot reverse it, but might it be possible that we can delay the symptoms worsening? He will be talking about some of his research on diet and exercise."

The symposium will also feature other speakers, including families affected by Alzheimer's in one way or another.

"That's always a central piece of it, to kind of bring the reality of it home. We have, I think, two people this year, a son who cared for his mom and then his spouse," Martin said. "Then afterward, we will have a person who can speak about the specific resources available in Carroll County: financial assistance, for example, or respite care, things like that."

The symposium will be held 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Decker Student Center Forum on campus. While the event is free, food will be served, so those who wish to attend are asked to call 410-857-2500 to provide caterers with an accurate head count. As far as who should come out, Martin is catholic.

"It's open to everyone. We are offering continuing education credits for social workers, physicians and nurses, but its for neighbors and families caring for people with Alzheimer's disease and even for people with Alzheimer's disease themselves," she said. "Last year, we had about 130 people come out."

Awareness of Alzheimer's is growing, Martin said, as is its presence in our community: There are 5.3 million people living with Alzheimer's or similar dementia in the U.S. today, 85,000 of whom are Marylanders.

"The attendance at our events goes up every year," Martin said. "People are interested in this, and it speaks to the need that we have near maximal capacity whenever we are holding one of these events."

If you go:

Oct. 8: 9 a.m.-11 a.m. The eighth annual Walk to End Alzheimers at the McDaniel College Gill Stadium, 2 College Hill, Westminster. Donations benefit the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. For more information, call 410-857-2500 or send an email to aging@mcdaniel.edu.

Oct. 12: 4:30-7:30 p.m. Fourth annual Alzheimer's Symposium in the Decker Student Center Forum at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster. Free, but registration for head count requested: Call 410-857-2500 or send an email to aging@mcdaniel.edu.

410-857-3317

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