Augusta's Alzheimer's Memory Walk is Saturday

When Carrie Ponder worked as a neuropsychology technician in a VA hospital, she witnessed the emotional and physical toll Alzheimer's disease took on her patients and their families.


Now, two years after her own diagnosis, Ms. Ponder, 77, has her own struggles. Little things like dates and times can slip her memory, and following recipes when she cooks can be a chore.

Ms. Ponder said her familiarity with Alzheimer's has helped her cope and allowed her to lend a sympathetic ear to others dealing with their diagnoses. On Saturday, she will speak at Augusta's 19th annual Memory Walk.

"I think that I am lucky in that I am in the early stages of it," Ms. Ponder said. "I can still do most of the things that I could do before. As time goes by, it gets a little more difficult."

Her family first noticed changes in her behavior and she struggled with tasks such as driving, which led her to see her doctor. The diagnosis came as something of a relief, she said.

"There were several years that I could feel changes, but I couldn't put my finger on it," Ms. Ponder said. "I was relieved really because I could put a name to it."

About 200,000 people in Georgia have Alzheimer's disease, estimated Kathy Tuckey, program and services director for the Alzheimer's Association's east central Georgia region. She said her branch's 17-county service area has about 14,000 people with the disease.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. It manifests itself in early stages with symptoms such as difficulty remembering names and events. As more nerve cells deteriorate, symptoms can include disorientation, impaired judgment and trouble speaking or walking. There is no known cure.

The disease mainly affects people older than 65. With the first of the baby boomer generation poised to reach that age in 2011, finding a cure becomes critical, Ms. Tuckey said. "I am optimistic because we are taking steps forward," she said. "But I am extremely frustrated because being involved in this issue I want to see a cure in my lifetime."

The organization also will use the walk as an opportunity to lobby for more Alzheimer's research dollars. People can sign cards asking their congressmen for funding. Ms. Tuckey said the association wants to collect at least 500 cards.

The Memory Walk is the Alzheimer's Association's main fundraiser. Registering for the walk is free, but groups are encouraged to raise money. The goal is $135,000. Last year's walk brought in $105,000.

Karen Agrelius, Memory Walk chairwoman, has a 79-year-old father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago. Her father and mother, who suffers from the effects of a stroke, lived with her briefly in Augusta last year but now are back in their California home receiving 24-hour care.

Ms. Agrelius said care decisions made with her two siblings in California have not been easy, but they have tried to make the best choices possible. Working with the Alzheimer's Association's support groups has been helpful, she said.

Ms. Ponder said she tries not to dwell on what will happen to her in the later stages of Alzheimer's. For now, she wants to keep spreading awareness.

"I hope that the things that will be brought up will make people understand more what Alzheimer's is all about," she said. "Hopefully one day we will have a cure."

Reach Erin Zureick at (706) 823-3217 or

Alzheimer's disease To find out more about Alzheimer's disease go to or call (706) 731-9060.


5.3 million

Estimated number of people living with the disease in the U.S.

9.9 million

Estimated number of unpaid caregivers in the U.S.

70 seconds

How often a new Alzheimer's diagnosis is given

$32 million

Amount raised nationally in the 2008 Memory Walk


Local goal for Memory Walk; goal for Georgia is $1.7 million


WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday (registration); 9 a.m. walk begins

WHERE: Augusta Common