As organizers prepare for the seventh year of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Owatonna, they maintain that, as long as people are being plagued with the fatal disease, they will keep walking.
“Alzheimer’s doesn’t stop and neither do we,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, manager of the Owatonna walk. “We never stop fundraising, regardless of a pandemic or anything else going on in the world.”
The 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Owatonna, being held at the Owatonna Fairgrounds on Sunday, will begin with walkers receiving their walk flowers upon entering. The flowers, which go into the Promise Garden, come in four different colors, each representing the participant’s connection to the disease. A participant with a purple flower has lost someone to the disease, while those with blue flowers suffer from the disease or another form of dementia. Yellow flowers are given to individuals caring for or supporting somebody with Alzheimer’s, while attendees who support the cause are given an orange flower.
The white flower represents the first survivor of Alzheimer’s.
“Hopefully, one day, we’ll be able to display that flower at the Promise Garden ceremony,” O’Donnell said.
Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and afflicts six million Americans and about 100,000 Minnesotans, impacts more than just those who suffer from it. Minnesota alone has 170,000 caregivers for individuals with Minnesota, a number that is expected to grow as the number of Minnesotans with Alzheimer’s grows from 99,000 to an estimated 120,000 between 2020 and 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Despite COVID-19, O’Donnell expects 275-300 people to participate in the walk this year, compared to past years, which had an average of 300-400 attendees. And in terms of their fundraising, the organization has already raised $49,491 of its $52,000 goal as of early Tuesday afternoon, making 2021 the most successful of the five years that O’Donnell has been managing the walk.
“We’ve never met our walk goal by walk day,” O’Donnell said, adding that she fully expects to meet that goal for the first time in the coming days. “I think with the pandemic … and our senior community really being hit with COVID, there’s no time like the present to really reach that goal.”
Of the donation money that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Owatonna fundraises, 79% goes to Alzheimer’s care, support, research and advocacy, while 15% goes back into fundraising and 6% goes toward administrative costs.
To keep people safe from COVID-19 and the highly contagious Delta variant at the walk — and especially since the event centers on the demographic most at risk from COVID-19 — the walk’s organizers are encouraging social distancing and masking for unvaccinated attendees. Masks, sanitizing stations and even gloves will also be offered.
Walkers at the event will also be allowed to begin their route whenever they feel comfortable, which differs from how the event has typically released everyone at once at the end of the Promise Garden ceremony. The goal is to allow walkers to move at a greater distance from one another.
“If they don’t feel comfortable at the walk site, we are allowing people to walk anywhere in the community as well,” O’Donnell said.
Though there is no known cure and limited options for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, O’Donnell remains hopeful for what research can eventually accomplish in preventing, treating and even curing the disease.
“Every year, I think we get closer and closer to accomplishing our goal,” she said. “Because we all want the same thing: we want to have a world without Alzheimer’s or dementia.”