Alzheimer's: Strolling Down Memory Lane

 John Bruinsma and Paula Abraham
John Bruinsma and Paula Abraham (WNDU)
Published: Jun. 6, 2016 at 2:04 PM EDT
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Alzheimer's has touched my family, and sadly 5 million Americans are living with this disease.

You first met Paula Abraham of South Bend, who is now fighting early onset Alzheimer's, four years ago when I interviewed her about her mother whom Paula took care of for eight years.

Then a year and a half ago Paula herself was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and asked me to follow her story.

I recently caught up with her and her granddaughter Eliana at Howard Park where the June 11 walk for Alzheimer's and Dementia Services will be held. Alzheimer's and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana has named this year's walk "Strolling Down Memory Lane."

Paula has come a long way since her diagnosis. She joined the national NOBLE Study through the Elkhart Clinic, testing for early onset Alzheimer's. She just had her one-year checkup. "Everything is on track. I completed one year, 52 weeks, and they are very optimistic about the trial and my health, and so far so good. They believe I have not gone back."

Finishing the second phase of the NOBLE trial, Paula and 500-plus others nationwide are awaiting FDA approval to start the third phase of the trial. In the meantime, there's some positive news. "All of us in the country that have completed phase two will be on an active medication."

That means she knows she will not be getting a placebo. "So now all of us who have completed this phase of the study will now be on the real deal for 28 weeks."

John Bruinsma runs like the wind. He's also passionate about seniors. He's been working with them for five years at St. Joseph Health System.

He recently ran the Boston Marathon in honor of those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. "Running has always been a passion of mine, and I thought, gosh, what a great pairing of two passions of mine: advocating for folks with Alzheimer's/dementia and running. So I dedicated my Boston run to Alzheimer's and Dementia Services."

But you don't have to run a marathon to help. Both Paula and John say a local walk will promise lots of fun, and the money will go to Alzheimer's and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana. It's a lifeline for sufferers and their families right here in Michiana.

Paula lost her mother earlier this year. "They helped me with the 12 years struggle with my mother, and so in her honor and her memory we'll walk, and we'll walk for all the families in our community."

John adds, "There's still a place for them. We don't talk about that enough. I'm really excited about Alzheimer's and Dementia Services, their early stage programs. They are engaging folks through woodwork and music and art classes. We can either make their world a wonderful, beautiful experience or it can be a daily drudgery."

John, whose grandmother Esther was diagnosed with vascular dementia four years ago, like Paula, has another reason to walk. "I guess more than anything else, by going on this walk and by showing support and solidarity we make this personal for us. My passion is helping them to discover ways to still connect with that person that's still inside of there and to preserve dignity with that person as well."

It's a passion Paula started with her mother and now continues for herself and others after losing her mother in March. "It will be a little bit different because I will be walking in her memory and in her honor. A lot of people say I am brave to do this, but is has nothing to do with brave, it's the right thing to do."

John adds, "At the end of the day, the real heroes are the people who age with this disease with dignity, people like Paula, people like Esther, my grandma."

Paula truly believes by walking in her shoes we all can be part of the solution in a cure. "I am very hopeful; I'm much more helpful than I was a year ago," she admits.

If you would like to walk Saturday, you can sign up online or show up at Howard Park on Saturday at 9 a.m. to register. There will also be a pet costume parade and an Elvis impersonator.

Strolling Down Memory Lane

Saturday, June 11

Howard Park

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