Walk to End Alzheimer’s event taking place on Oct. 27

 The Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Florida Chapter expects to build on the enormous success of last year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s with this year’s event on Saturday, Oct. 27, and they have the full backing and support of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to bolster the momentum they are carrying into the event.

During a recent press conference conducted in the congresswoman’s office, Ros-Lehtinen stressed the growing importance of awareness and support for this crucial cause.

“As more and more baby boomers reach the age of 65 over the next decade, Florida will face a drastic increase in the number of people who will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “It is the sixth-leading cause of death in America today.”

Having lost her mother to the debilitating affliction, Ros-Lehtinen —the most senior Republican woman serving in the House of Representatives — has a personal stake in eradicating the increasingly prevalent disease, which seems to have hit Florida harder than any other state.

“There are nearly half a million people in Florida living with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “That’s almost 10 percent of the total for the entire country.”

According to Leslie Rivera, the Alzheimer’s ambassador to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, it isn’t only our senior citizens who are at risk. Cases of early onset Alzheimer’s are being discovered more frequently as awareness grows.

“We have one girl in Lighthouse Point who was recently married for only 18 months and her husband had early onset,” she said. “He was in his 40s.”

The walk will be attended by people of both long-standing involvement and those who have just recently joined the cause. Two of the newest members are Sharon Newman, who joined in August, and Ellen May, the developmental coordinator in charge of overseeing the walk, and setting up tents and activity areas.

“My grandfather has Alzheimer’s, so I’m his primary caregiver,” said Newman, who was involved with the nonprofit American Cancer Society before moving to her current position as walk manager.

For the fiscal year of 2013, President Barack Obama has requested an additional $100 million for Alzheimer’s research and care, but it is believed that a considerable amount more is needed.

Tony Friguls, whose wife was diagnosed seven years ago with early onset Alzheimer’s at the young age of 55, tried to put it into perspective.

“During the presidential debate, they were talking about 23 million people unemployed, however there are 5 million people with Alzheimer’s, 15 million caregivers working without wages and another 10 million friends and family affected,” he said.

“We are only a few billion dollars away from a cure, but those few billion dollars can only come from Washington,” said Enrique Pinero, the Alzheimer’s Association Southeast Florida Chapter (SEFC) chair of the board.

Help cannot come soon enough, however.

“You’re talking to the person you love the most, and you know that in a short time they will not know who you are,” said William Sussman, SEFC co-chair. “Can you imagine a greater horror?”

The 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Miami-Dade is Saturday, Oct. 27, and will take place in Merrick Park at 400 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables. On-site registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. The website, where it is also possible to register, is <www.alz.org/walk>. There is also a year-round 24-hour helpline in place (1-800-272-3900) that provides education, counseling, support and resources.

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