Every September, thousands of people march through downtown Buffalo wearing purple shirts to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease research and care. Like so many other large fundraisers, COVID-19 has made this impossible.
Instead, those impacted by the cognitive disorder will walk in small, socially-distanced groups in their own communities Saturday morning.
“We'd like to say we are still walking,” said Jill Horner, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Western New York, which organizes the Buffalo Walk to End Alzheimer's. “We're going to be on every sidewalk and on every trail, but it's more in terms of small gatherings where it's safe."
The fundraiser, part of more than 600 natiowide, will begin with an online opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m., with participants encouraged to begin walking at 9:45 a.m. Participants can also walk by the view-only Promise Garden at South Sheridan Meadows Corporate Park in Amherst.
In an effort to make the walk more interactive, the Alzheimer's Association is also encouraging walkers to post videos and photos to its Walk Mainstage virtual platform. It will also include speakers, visits with sponsors and engagement with other participants.
“We're trying to give you as much of a walk as we possibly can and that community feel,” Horner said.
The change in format and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened the Alzheimer’s Association's expectations. It has set a fundraising goal of $600,000, about a 7% increase from last year’s goal. As of Friday, more than 820 registered participants had raised about $228,000.
“COVID is kind of an all-consuming problem that we have going out of the country right now, but that doesn't mean that these other serious issues have gone away or even faded into second place,” said injury attorney Steve Barnes, a sponsor of the walk. “Alzheimer's remains the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. So it remains a real problem and will for some time to come and I'm hoping that people still step up to the plate.”
Barnes knows that problem on a personal level, too. His uncle died from Alzheimer’s. He said his uncle was an engineer and highly component person, but the disease left him “essentially an empty vessel.”
“It was just so difficult to be next to him, remembering what he was and what he was capable of,” he said. “So it's not easy.”
And in many cases, the pandemic has only made life more difficult for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. The number of calls to the Alzheimer’s Association's helpline has doubled and the length of calls has also increased, according to Horner.
“If you're at home with a loved one you're really facing not only your own health being at risk, but the health of the loved one who you're taking care of, and so I think it's frightening for quite a few people,” she said. “I'm really proud of the work that the staff at the Association has been doing, not only in terms of picking up the phone and reaching out to people, but the people reaching out and calling us.”
Five more walks will be held throughout Western New York over the next month, including Sept. 26 in Allegany and Medina; Oct. 3 in Batavia and Lockport; and Oct. 10 Dunkirk.
Those interested in registering can visit act.alz.org.