Big family teams, high retention rates set Northeast Nebraska Alzheimer’s Walk apart

October 2, 2018

Chris Schavee doesn’t know exactly when her mother, Julia Stuthman, started showing signs of dementia.

But the Norfolkan remembers that her mother wasn’t acting like herself as much.

“Mom was very good at hiding her symptoms and covering for herself,” she said. “We just knew something wasn’t right; she wasn’t herself.”

Stuthman, a quiet woman who enjoyed gardening and quilting, started showing symptoms of dementia around 15 years ago.

Now, she lives in the Wisner Care Center, and Schavee visits with her family once a week for two hours. She said their conversations can be stymied by her mother’s condition.

“If you ask her something, sometimes she can answer you and sometimes she can’t really find the words,” she said. “She’ll try to answer, but it’s not real words that she’s giving you.”

She’s heard a quote that sums up the experience: “I miss my mom the most when she’s sitting across from me.”

Over the years, as she watched her mother face dementia, she wanted to do something to help. About four years ago, Schavee started participating in the Northeast Nebraska Walk to End Alzheimer’s and serving on the volunteer committee board.

Schavee’s gotten her extended family involved, too, walking as part of a team called “Julia’s Kids.” Usually a group of eight to 10 people walk in her group each year.

“Julia’s Kids” is one of 26 teams that have signed up so far to participate in this year’s walk this Sunday at Skyview Park in Norfolk, said Elizabeth Chentland, regional director of communications for the Nebraska chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. There are currently over 110 participants signed up and $19,000 funds raised so far.

The event serves as the largest support group the association offers to show Norfolk’s commitment to ending Alzheimer’s, Chentland said. It has been in the area for over 20 years.

“This has been a long-standing community event, one that members have supported tirelessly for years,” she said. “We’re continuing to carry on that tradition to honor those that face this disease.”

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States this year, and it causes about one third of senior deaths, according to Alzheimer’s Association statistics. In Nebraska, the number of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is projected to increase 17 percent over the next seven years.

Showing support for those affected has always been a priority for the Northeast Nebraska Walk organizers, which has a higher than average retention rate of over 70 percent, Chentland said.

Also unique to this event is a higher than average family participation, with some family teams bringing members from across the country to the walk.

“The Northeast event has high retention rates of returning teams,” she said. “It showcases (organizers’) commitment to event, but it also showcases the community’s commitment to this disease because they keep returning year after year.”

The event “raises awareness and reminds people that it takes money to solve things,” Schavee said. “It would be wonderful if (just) walking solved things, but it doesn’t.” She’s currently raffling tickets for a membership to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha to raise funds.

Sixty percent of funds raised in Nebraska events stay in-state, with 40 percent funding national research initiatives, Chentland said. Less than seven percent of total funds raised go to administrative fees.

The walk also provides a visual representation of those affected by Alzheimer’s. Participants have different colors of flowers showing their reason for being there: yellow is for caregivers, orange is for allies, purple is for those who have lost someone.

At last year’s walk, Schavee noticed something different — a single white flower that denotes surviving Alzheimer’s. Although there still hasn’t been a survivor of the disease, it represents the determination to find a cure.

The white flower gives her hope.

“It’s something hopefully soon we can see more of,” she said. “More (white), less purple.”

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Want to participate?

The Northeast Nebraska walk will be on October 7 at Skyview Park. Registration will start at 12 p.m., with a ceremony at 1 p.m. and the walk starting after. To register, which can be done through the day of the event, go to alz.org.

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