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Fund-raisers to benefit Alzheimer's patients

By Greg Gelpi

It started with little things, like losing her keys, but developed into more severe symptoms, Paul Colon, a Forest Park podiatrist, said describing his mother's Alzheimer's disease.

"I noticed that she started to lose things," said Colon, the Clayton County chairman of Memory Walk, but it gradually worsened. "If she would go more than a block away from home, she would get lost."

To help those with Alzheimer's and families of those with the disease, the Clayton County Building and Maintenance Department is coordinating the Alzheimer's Building Fund and holding a fund-raiser to benefit Alzheimer's Service Center, Inc.

The center is temporarily housed in the Riverdale Public Library and is raising funds to construct a $1 million facility near Southlake Mall, said Les Markland, the assistant director of the building and maintenance department. The center outgrew its Conley facility and serves patients and families in Clayton, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinett, Henry and Rockdale counties.

"(The center) gives them time to drop them off and leave them for a while," Markland said.

The center provides care for families and patients, including meals and activities for Alzheimer's patients.

Events for the fund-raiser will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with a bike, car and truck show. The entry fee is $15, and winners will be announced at 5 p.m. The show, live music, entertainment and amusement will be at Clayton County International Park.

Admission to the park is free and all donations benefit the new facility of the Alzheimer's Service Center, Inc.

Colon said caring for someone with Alzheimer's is a "full-time job" since the disease leaves patients unable to care for themselves.

"To be honest, Alzheimer's is more devastating to the family," he said.

Colon's mother would recall events from her childhood, but couldn't say what she had for breakfast only hours earlier, he said.

"Physically, they are still there, but their mental capacity decreases," Colon said. "The more they can use their mind, the better they are. The biggest misconception is that Alzheimer's is a death sentence."

Colon built Governor's Glen, an apartment complex for those with dementia and memory problems, to help those with illnesses, such as Alzheimer's.

He is also helping coordinate the Southern Crescent Memory Walk in Peachtree City. The events raise awareness and money to research a cure for Alzheimer's and assist families of those with Alzheimer's. The walk will be at 9 a.m. Oct. 2, and those interested in participating can call (404) 362-0404.

Dr. Peter S. Harvey of Southern Regional Medical Center said many of his patients are between the ages of 40 to 70, the age when the first signs of Alzheimer's appear and the age when more severe symptoms occur.

"In the past, we as physicians have sort of dropped the ball, waiting until someone is 80 years old (to check for Alzheimer's)," Harvey said, explaining that the disease isn't only for those who are old. "Anytime you have any signs of memory impairment, you should bring them in to at least be screened."

The advanced symptoms of Alzheimer's include hallucinations, depression and the inability to perform daily tasks, he said. There are treatments, but no cure.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease is a "degenerative brain disease that usually begins gradually, causing a person to forget recent events or familiar tasks."

The disease strikes in varying rates from person to person, according to the association.

"Communication becomes difficult as the affected person struggles to find words, finish thoughts or follow directions," according to the Alzheimer's Association. "Eventually, most people with Alzheimer's disease become unable to care for themselves."

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 4 million Americans are inflicted with the disease, including one in 10 of those over the age of 65 and almost half of those over 85.

The association lists the following as symptoms of Alzheimer's: memory loss that affects work, difficulty performing familiar tasks, difficulty with language, disorientation, failing judgment, problems with abstract thinking, losing items, mood swings, personality changes and loss of initiative.