Carson Alzheimer’s walk seeks to spark conversation about debilitating disease

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: October 1, 2018 | 12:30 p.m. 

CARSON – Nestled at the corner of Shady Lane and Old Stage Road in Carson is what some would see as just a rural ball field, but for the Harvell family, that ball field and the lush greenery that surrounds it displays a legacy that the family of the late Nola Harvell carries forward today as they return there to host a special Alzheimer’s Disease awareness event for the second straight year. 

On Saturday, Oct. 6 from noon to 5 p.m., the community is expected to return to the Harvell/Parham Ball Field and Recreation Park to step out in memory of those who have passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia and honor those who are still suffering from the disease and their caregivers during the second annual walk organized the daughter of Nola Harvell, Mildred Woodhouse, with the goal of, not only, raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Association, but also raising awareness of the disease and bringing it out of the shadows to further the conversation, both locally and nationwide.

Known as the “Silent Killer,” robbing patients of their precious memories and their lives, the facts and figures surrounding Alzheimer’s Disease can be sobering. According to the latest data from the Alzheimer’s Association, America’s voice advocating for research to eventually find a cure for the disease, it remains the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. 

The number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s continues to grow as over 5.7 million Americans are living with the disease and it’s projected that figure will rise to 14 million by the halfway point of the century in 2050. 

“Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease,” the organization said.

Unfortunately, even though research continues to make strides, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, with officials with the association saying, “Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11 percent, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 123 percent.”

Those statistics hit close to home for Woodhouse and her family as they became the caregivers of Harvell as she suffered from the disease, a story she told as she organized last year’s walk in her mother’s honor.

“My mom became my toddler,” she shared. “As toddlers get into stuff, so did she. It was a tough journey but the help of family and friends made the voyage much easier.”

Nola Harvell (middle) with her family, who plans to walk in her honor to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease research. (Family photo)

“My mother left me with good memories and big laughs,” Woodhouse continued. “I had to figure out ways to laugh rather than cry at some of the things that ‘loss of memory’ can cause you to do and say. Great memories are what helps me as I think of her daily. We played ball inside the house, ate strawberry ice cream cones, which were her favorite, and we laughed a lot together.”

Harvell lived just a short distance from the ball field, who would regularly walk to the fields to check the meters and enjoy the fresh country air and, during last year’s event, her presence was felt by attendees as they made their first steps in memory of all those touched by this disease. 

For this year’s event, Woodhouse said the support from the community has grown, with a number of local church’s coming on board, including Little Zion, Little Bethel, and St. John’s Baptist churches, along with support both financially, including donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, and in terms of resources to help make next week’s walk even better. When asked, Woodhouse explained one of her goals is to help people share their experiences with Alzheimer’s and dementia to help honor those who passed away and support those living and caring for those with the disease.

Over the last twelve months, she noted that a number of people have sat down and spoken to her about family members and friends that have the disease, giving candid and honest accounts about their experiences.

“When different people passed, you sometimes didn’t really know what was going on in their lives,” Woodhouse remarked. “The assumption is they simply passed away from old age, but a lot of them have been suffering from Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia for years, but nobody really wanted to talk about it because it might sound embarrassing. The more we are talking about this disease, the more people who are coming forward and sharing their stories with us.”

She added the gravity of Alzheimer’s can be lost on those who haven’t had to care for someone with the disease or know someone with a form of dementia, but when that tragic diagnosis is made, its effects of people’s lives can be transformative.

“When it hits your household, affecting your sister, brother or sister, wife or husband, mom or dad, that is when reality really kicks in and people realize it can happen to anyone,” she said. “Everyone who has a brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s.”

Reflecting on last year’s walk, Woodhouse said she was moved by the support received by the community, particularly the turnout, which transformed the event from a simple walk into a family reunion of sorts.

“The support we have gotten really shows you just how people can come together and, even though as we grow up and move away and drift apart, we are still one and we are unified,” she said. “When I started working on this last year and when we got to the walk, I saw people I haven’t seen in years.”

During last year’s walk, attendees releases balloons, each color representing those suffering from the disease, their caregivers, and those who died with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. (Michael Campbell)

According to Woodhouse, though last year’s walk, her team “Shades of Memories of Dinwiddie, Virginia” raised roughly $3,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association but, as this year’s walk approaches, she said that support has been strong and she expects to double that amount at this year’s event.

While next week’s walk is about bringing awareness to this terrible disease, visiting the fields that served as a backdrop to the Harvell family home makes it all the more special for Woodhouse and the connection it has with her mother, who was loved by so many in the small community of Carson.

“For us to be right there on the farm where she walked miles and miles, walking those fields and to the ballpark to take meter readings for the electricity, I think that gave her a lot of exercise,” she recalled. “Sometimes, I just visualize how she walked that farm and loved the land and it makes us love it that much more.”

To learn more about the Shades of Memories of Dinwiddie, Virginia team, visit their page at http://act.alz.org/goto/steppingforNolaB or contact Mildred Harvell Woodhouse at 301-661-4605 or email her at mildredwoodhouse@gmail.com.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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