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Students walk to help end Alzheimer’s disease

By Jessica Katz, MSW student

For second year MSW students Jessica Katz and Veronica Lett, supporting the fight against Alzheimer’s disease is an issue that is close to their hearts. They are focusing on aging in their program and are also co-captains of the students’ Aging Caucus.

Through their field placements and other experiences, they have seen first-hand how devastating Alzheimer’s can be to patients and families. It is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is diagnosed in over five million people, and the numbers are growing with the increase in life expectancy and older adult population. That is why the two students felt compelled to establish a School of Social Work team for this year’s Walk To End Alzheimer’s. The Walk is a national event sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. Tens of thousands of teams across the country walk each fall to raise funds and support for Alzheimer’s research and care.

Katz and Lett wanted to involve as many people as possible. They sent out numerous emails, passed around a donation box in their classes, and hung up flyers throughout the School building. They were pleasantly surprised with the number of people who supported them.

The Walk was held on a chilly and drizzly day in mid-September at Durham Bulls Stadium. That morning, the team captains waited amongst the balloons and large crowds, with their umbrellas in hand, to see who would show up. Team UNC Social Work ended up being a total of 14 walkers, including MSW students Lett, Katz, Melissa Gray, Khanh Nguyen, Kim Swanson, Daniel Valez, Jessica Lambert Ward, Susannah Walker, Arianna Taboada and Alice Pollard; as well as two public health students, a few significant others, and Winnie the dog.

Sporting big purple stickers and holding different-colored flowers to represent those they were supporting, the team entered the stadium to find a sea of people waving their own flowers. The MC welcomed the crowd and spoke about how important it is to end such a tragic disease. He then told the stories of four different people whose lives had been touched in some way by Alzheimer’s, including a man who had the diagnosis. All four stood on the stage holding their flowers high. The walk was a lap around the stadium, and the walkers were met with encouraging signs along the way (such as, “This way to a world without Alzheimer’s”).

When they arrived back at the stadium’s entrance, the team was faced with an intense sight: All of their flowers had been stuck in the lawn. It truly portrayed the unfortunate number of people in our small triangle area who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and/or who were supporting the fight against it.

“It was empowering to be surrounded by so many people who are motivated to see the end of Alzheimer’s disease, including our very own school buddies,” said Katz. “With the support of many of our friends, family, faculty, staff, and classmates, Team UNC Social Work raised over $2,000 and was ranked #7 out of over a hundred teams.”

Katz and Lett are grateful to everyone who supported their cause and hope that somebody will carry on Team UNC Social Work at next year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s.