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Iowa City Community lends a hand to Alzheimer’s funding

BY CONRAD SWANSON | JUNE 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Brittney Robinson hustled around Coralville’s North Ridge Pavilion on Wednesday morning.

The small woman seemed to be everywhere at once as she flitted around a room filled with informational pamphlets, home-baked goods, Dixie cups full of steaming coffee, sign-up sheets, folding chairs, and encouraging smiles. The weather outside may have been cloudy and damp, but spirits inside were high as the Walk to End Alzheimer’s hosted a kickoff party.

Robinson is the community outreach specialist for the East Central Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and she is coordinating a fundraising walk around Iowa City that will take place on Oct. 1. She has seen someone close to her affected by dementia — something she describes as a common “umbrella term” or a catchall phrase that encompasses Alzheimer’s disease — and she said she’s trying to educate people on the disease, its effects, and what the public can do to help.

“It’s a huge epidemic, and we’re trying to move forward and help others,” Robinson said.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, formerly known as the Memory Walk, is a nationwide fundraiser focused on raising awareness about Alzheimer’s. While an individual can attend the walk, there is a focus on teams. Robinson’s goal for this year is to have 50 teams sign up for the event, which is set to take place in City Park.

“Teams are a good way to unite people,” she said. “Companies are coming together, [and] there’s a nice sense of community.”

She said the disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, but it’s the fifth-leading cause of death in Iowa. She did, however, clarify that she isn’t trying to promote the message that Alzheimer’s is necessarily worse than the other leading causes of death in the country. Instead, it’s simply different — the science community knows very little about the disease, how it begins, how it develops, or prevention methods, she said.

“It’s not to say Alzheimer’s is worse than other diseases, but the communication is different,”

Robinson said about the relationship between someone with the disease and her or his caregiver.
She is being helped by Gary Wicklund, who has been with the association for six years. His mother died from Alzheimer’s in 1987, and he spoke described how people simply weren’t knowledgeable about the disease at that time. Wicklund is the vice president of the board for the East Central Iowa chapter and appears to share Robinson’s enthusiasm.

“I want 1,000 walkers out there on Oct. 1,” Wicklund said.

That number might be ambitious — Robinson said the association’s official estimation is that 336 walkers will attend this year.

University of Iowa students are also involved with the walk. UI junior Mollie Birchard said her team’s focus for the walk will be to promote a university group called Hawkeyes Fighting Alzheimer’s. Birchard, who has been an active member of various Alzheimer’s organizations for two years, said she has seen positive changes during her time.

“There’s definitely more public awareness,” she said. “We definitely got our name out there.”

As busy as Robinson may have been Wednesday morning, a smile remained on her face almost constantly.

“It’s all worked out,” she said. “It’s all about being flexible. People know — you’ve got to take things as they come.”


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