Buffalo’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s returns this weekend, as thousands are expected to walk around the Outer Harbor in the name of fighting the cognitive disease.
As a child, Jacquie Prenatt would sit with her father and watch cooking shows and boxing matches. He’d often tell her she was “good company.”
Now, about four years after her father was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Prenatt said sitting with him is difficult.
“It’s just not him anymore,” the 35-year-old Kenmore insurance adjuster and mother of two told WBFO. “It’s just a horrible disease. It takes away the person that you love and turns them into somebody that just looks like the person that you knew.”
Prenatt has found something of a coping mechanism in Buffalo’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She and her 73-year-old father, Rick Gazzo, will be some of the roughly 3,000 people wearing purple and walking two miles around the Outer Harbor Saturday to raise money for researching the fatal, incurable cognitive disease.
“(I walk) to feel like I was doing something to help fix it,” Prenatt said. “If not for my dad then for future generations."
The walk is just the first of what will be six walks throughout the region this fall by the Western New York chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Other walks include Sept. 21 in both Dunkirk and Batavia; Sept. 28 in Allegany and Medina; and Oct. 5 in Lewiston.
But Buffalo’s is by far the biggest walk, raising more than $500,000 of the Western New York walks’ nearly $800,000 fundraising total last year.
So far this year, the Buffalo walk has raised $366,000, with an ultimate goal of $565,000.
“A portion of every single dollar we raise goes right into research,” said Monica Pomeroy, communications director for the Alzheimer's Association of Western New York, “and I think people admire that and are grateful for that because they see that we are making an effort to attack this disease.”
The Alzheimer's Association is the largest non-profit fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research in the U.S. and will hold more than 600 walks this year across the country.
Saturday’s Buffalo walk will include vendors, live music and children’s activities, as well as promise garden flowers that correspond with walkers’ connection to the disease — like blue for someone living with Alzheimer’s, or yellow for someone providing care to someone with Alzheimer’s.
“It’s amazing to me to see all the people who come out, who build tremendous teams and fundraise and create their own t-shirts and carry pictures of the person that they love who they lost or is living with dementia,” Pomeroy said. “It’s overwhelming and heartwarming to see it.”
Pomeroy added the walk also reminds families they’re not alone in dealing with the cognitive disease.
It’s estimated about 400,000 New York state residents are currently living with Alzheimer’s. The state expects that number to increase to 465,000 by 2025.
There’s also more than 1 million unpaid caregivers, typically family and friends, who provided 1.2 billion hours of care to Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients in 2018, according to the state.
There’s no concrete data on just how many Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers there are in Western New York, but the Alzheimer's Association of Western New York alone serves more than 5,000 people, both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregiving partners.
Prenatt’s mother still takes care of her dad in their Buffalo home, although they’re considering moving into a ranch-style house because he’s starting to have trouble with stairs.
Prenatt said her father, a retired payroll manager who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during a brain operation for hydrocephalus, still remembers his family, but struggles with day-to-day tasks and often repeats himself.
“He’s not quite who he is,” she said. “He doesn’t tell the same stories he used to tell when I was younger.”
This will be the family’s second year participating in the walk. Their team, “Rick’s Good Company,” named after what Prenatt’s dad used to call her as a child, has already met its $3,500 fundraising goal for this year’s walk.
Prenatt noted she didn’t start her family’s team until a couple years after her dad’s diagnosis. She said she just wasn’t ready, as she didn’t want to discuss her dad’s situation and hesitated even telling people her dad had Alzheimer’s.
“I guess there was stigma in my head,” she said. “It’s just that I didn’t know I would get the support that I have now. Without my friends and family I don’t know how I would be handling it. I’ve gotten an amazing amount of support through the fundraisers for the walk and just in general.”
On-site registration for Saturday’s walk will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Outer Harbor Drive and Fuhrmann Boulevard. The walk then begins at 10:30 a.m. Walkers can also register online at https://www.alz.org/wny.
There is no fee for walking, but participants are asked to make a personal donation and commit to raising funds.