Local advocates fight against Alzheimer’s disease

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — It’s the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and today there is no cure. The disease is Alzheimer’s and it’s estimated that 5.5 million people are living with it.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that leads to memory loss and even loss of cognitive function. 1 out of 3 seniors will die of Alzheimer’s.  It also affects 200,000 people under the age of 65.

Currently, there is treatment for symptoms, but there is no cure.

We spoke with Heather Van Lin, an advocate and fundraiser with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Her mother was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s at the age of 57.

Van Lin became interested in learning everything she could about the disease, and when her mother passed at the age of 63, she took the fight to Washington. Heather now volunteers as an advocate for change. She talks with congressmen and senators about the need for funding and the toll that the disease takes on caregivers.

Each year the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association holds multiple fundraisers to provide money for research and caregiving. Much like Van Lin, participants from all over the state participate in The Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Nine walks are held across the state including one in Charleston.

Zoe Watkins is this year’s walk chair. She is also the youngest person in the state to hold fill the role. At only 25 Zoe has more knowledge of the disease than many. She became a primary caregiver for her grandmother when she was only 17, putting off her first year of college. Watkins says it was a challenge but an experience she would never trade.

In addition to the walk, The Alzheimer’s Association also holds a fundraiser specific to The Palmetto State. It’s a 250-mile bike ride from Greenville to Charleston called “A Ride to Remember.

The group of riders are described as a family. Most share a connection to the disease and a common goal to end it.

We talked with 2 riders who have participated for the last few years. They decided to take the challenge on a tandem bicycle and rode on behalf of Will’s family and in memory of his grandmother who died of Alzheimer’s two years ago.

A brand new facility is also scheduled to open in a few months in Mount Pleasant. It’s called Forever Young. It’s a  a day care center for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. We spoke with owner John Belissary, who says the center will also be beneficial to caregivers in need of rest. Up to 35 patients can get care 8 hours a day.

This week Alzheimer’s research may receive historic funding after a highly debated federal budget passes in congress. The proposed budget will be on the desk of the president on Friday. In the budget, 400 million dollars will be provided to the National Institute of Health, set aside for Alzheimer’s research. This is the second funding increase in 2 years and lowcountry advocates are celebrating for all the hard work that was put in to making it happen.

The money will awarded through grant requests. One research lab in South Carolina received a grant of 1.2 million to continue their work.

Where is this money going? What are local researchers trying to learn right now? We asked those questions to Dr. Peisheng Xu, a professor at South Carolina College of Pharmacy. His team has been studying nano-particles and their use in neuron regeneration.

For more on A Ride to Remember

For more on the Alzheimer’s Association

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