SUN CITY CENTER — For Connie Lesko finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is an issue close to her heart. Within the last three years she lost both her parents to the ravaging effects of the disease.
“With Alzheimer’s, you actually lose your loved ones long before they die; they can survive a long time with no quality of life,” she said. “The last two years of my mother’s life, she couldn’t walk or talk or feed herself.
“It’s a slow disappearing act.”
After her parents were both diagnosed, the Sundance resident became passionate about supporting organizations that try to do something about the disease. For three years she worked closely with the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa. Five years ago, as the Freedom Plaza business development coordinator, she had the opportunity to bring the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s to Sun City Center.
From 2009 to 2012, the effort raised almost $115,000 for Alzheimer’s research, and 979 South Shore walkers have hit the streets.
“Even though it’s held in Sun City Center, it’s actually a South Shore Walk,” Lesko said. “It’s a day when chambers, clubs, neighborhoods and businesses all come together to raise money for this cause.”
The walk is part of a nationwide effort to prevent or find a cure or treatment for the brain disease, which affects one in eight people older than 64 and more than a third of those older than 85. Research has shown that Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, gradually causes memory loss and can prevent those afflicted from performing physical activities like walking, eating and, eventually, even breathing.
“It’s a disease that’s extremely frustrating to those who have it and excruciatingly painful to those who are caregivers,” said Kings Point resident Dana Dittmar, who lost her mother two years ago to Alzheimer’s. “To watch my mother, who was a brilliant, highly educated woman, disintegrate into someone who didn’t know her own name, let alone mine, was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever witnessed. Her body may have lived past her 90th birthday but her mind left a decade earlier.”
She will be walking with Divas Against Alzheimer’s on Saturday along with more than 30 other teams, including Lesko’s Freedom Marchers, Sun City Center Security Patrol, Pacifica Senior Living, SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, Aston Gardens and Sun Towers.
The event will start and end at the United Methodist Church of Sun City Center, 1210 W. Del Webb Blvd. Registration and pre-walk activities begin at 9 a.m., and the 1- to 2-mile walk begins at 10.
A bus will be available at the halfway point to take those who can’t do the entire route back to the church.
Awards will be given to the team raising the most money, the individual who raises the most money and the team with the most spirit. More than 300 people are expected to participate.
Parking is free at the church.
The goal this year is to raise $45,000.
“I’d like people to know they don’t have to actually walk to be part of the event,” Lesko said. “They can just show up at the church and make a donation, learn more about the disease and find ways they can help. It’s a day of celebration and hope for those who have been touched by Alzheimer’s.
“As long as I can take a breath I will work for this cause.”
To learn more about Alzheimer’s, visit www.alz.org.
If you or someone you know is dealing with memory loss and needs support, call the association’s 24/7 help line at (800) 272-3900.