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Colorful pinwheels recognize those who battle Alzheimer’s

DeKALB – The writing on one purple flower’s petal read, “Dad, I miss you every day.”

Other flowers “planted” in a memorial garden at Hopkins Park honored grandparents or other relatives, mentioning loved ones were “gone but not forgotten.” Some notes mentioned hope for finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The flower pinwheels were given to caregivers, supporters and family members of those with Alzheimer’s during Sunday’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

DeKalb’s second annual walk kicked off at the park Sunday morning and wound along paths and residential areas for about three miles. Teams and individuals raised money for Alzheimer’s research, support groups and educational programs, said Jennifer Ratkovic, manager of special events in the Rockford office of the Alzheimer’s Association’s greater Illinois chapter.

Hillary Tarr said many people don’t realize how difficult Alzheimer’s disease can be for families to deal with, and those with the disease – although they might not seem like themselves – still deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Tarr and Brittany Northcutt were part of the “Linced by Lost Memories” team, representing memory care facility Lincolnshire Place in Sycamore.

“The more people understand [Alzheimer’s disease], the better we can care for our residents and the more we can put toward solving the problems,” Tarr said.

Ratkovic said they hoped to have 300 people in the walk, and participants raised more than $30,000.

Walkers were given flower pinwheels, with each color signifying a relationship to someone with Alzheimer’s. Blue flowers were for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia, purple meant the walker had lost someone to Alzheimer’s, yellow represented a caregiver, and orange flowers were given to supporters.

Ratkovic said the event offered those affected by Alzheimer’s an opportunity to connect and work toward the common goal of fighting the disease.

“It’s kind of a way to support each other,” she said.

Steve Hudson and Robby Kuehl, both of Rochelle, were part of a team that walked for Hudson’s mother-in-law and Kuehl’s grandmother, Sharon Kuehl. Hudson said it’s tough to handle not only the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s but also watching the disease progress and knowing memories are gone.

“It’s sad to see someone that doesn’t even know their own kids anymore,” he said.

For some walkers, the cause was felt personally and professionally. Teammates Keely Ernest, Kym Jones, Rilla Meier, Sydney Forest and Katie Engel work for Fox Valley Older Adult Services and regularly interact with clients who have Alzheimer’s. Jones and Meier also have relatives with Alzheimer’s.

“We see how it affects people’s lives every day,” Ernest said. “It’s such an awful disease.”

“It’s very touching to me to see so many people come out and support the same cause,” Engel added.

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