Mark Deterding knows all about Alzheimer’s. So do his siblings – his brother, Roger, and his sister, Rita Strickler.
Their father, Walt, had Alzheimer’s disease. So did Walt’s mother, their grandmother. In fact, of their grandmother’s nine children, eight of them – the Deterding siblings’ aunts, uncles and dad – had Alzheimer’s.
“My grandmother was still alive when I was in high school,” said Deterding, of Alexandria. “I remember it, her Alzheimer’s. She suffered for probably 15-20 years.”
Deterding, along with his wife, Kim, and many family members, will be walking in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Deterding family is this year’s honorary family for the event at Alexandria City Park. Registration starts at noon and a ceremony is planned for 1 p.m., with the walk immediately to follow.
They were part of the first Alexandria walk last September. But the family’s first walk was in 2012 in Madison, Wisconsin, where their dad lived. He died the following year at age 80. He was first diagnosed with the awful disease when he was 60.
“Walt’s Walkers. That’s what we’ve been called since we started in Madison,” said Deterding. “We are honored this year to have Walt’s Walkers be the honorary family.”
Being involved in the walk is about providing hope to others. He added that there are cancer survivors and heart disease survivors, but nobody survives the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
“We want to help find a cure,” he said. “Hopefully in our lifetime, there will be. Maybe within five years, there will be a breakthrough.”
Doing their part
After their dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s, Deterding’s brother heard about an Alzheimer’s study being conducted at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His brother was on the board of the Alzheimer’s Association, which is where he first learned about the study.
Deterding’s brother and sister-in-law, Kelly, who also has a family history of Alzheimer’s, signed up for the study and so did Deterding.
According to the research center’s website, volunteers help researchers make strides in early diagnosis of memory problems and identifying potential new interventions to help treat, delay the onset and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease entirely. Researchers are also learning more about how to identify the disease and the variety of lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that contribute to disease risk.
“We are all signed up for the rest of our lives,” said Deterding. “And I have donated my brain to the study after I am gone. The reason we’re doing it is to find a cure for our kids and grandkids so they don’t have to deal with it.”
The three family members went through a battery of testing, including a brain scan and spinal tap. The testing also consisted of memory and thinking ability (cognitive) evaluations that will be done every two years.
“We know it (Alzheimer’s) is there,” said Deterding. “It’s a hereditary thing.”
Ask for help
Deterding shared advice for those who may have a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“Seek professional help,” he advised. “100 percent, get professional help.”
He called Alzheimer’s a “monster thing” and said asking for help is about family members being able to continue being “just the loved ones” to the patient. Trying to be the caregiver and the loved one is difficult and stressful. Professionals, such as those who work in memory care units, can provide the care patients need, he said.
He also said to remember “they (the patient) are always your loved one. They didn’t choose this and they don’t understand. You just need to be there for them. Allow the professionals to do the care and you do the loving.”
Another item Deterding said to not forget is losing a loved one is “not the end of the world.”
“The hope is we will be back together again in eternity,” he said. “Life is for eternity. I can’t wait to be sitting with my dad again and he is back to normal. That’s the comfort you have.”