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Fundraiser aims to end Alzheimer’s step-by-step

Here’s what to know about the 2021 Greater Boston Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease.

In this 2020 file photo, Melissa Shirtcliff, with the Alzheimer's Association, plants flower shaped pinwheels in a promise garden for the Walk to End Alzheimer's. Because of COVID-19, last year the walk had to be restructured to avoid having people gather in large groups. Walkers were encouraged to walk in small groups in their own neighborhoods and to view the garden in Moakley Park from their car. Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Staff

The odds that Alzheimer’s Disease has touched a Bostonian’s life are fairly high, but organizers of an upcoming fundraiser hope to change that. 

The annual Greater Boston Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease is happening Sunday, Sept. 26, at the DNC North Point Park in Cambridge. The walk, which is part of a yearly event held in more than 600 communities nationwide, has a goal of raising $1.2 million to fund Alzheimer’s support and research — it’s raised more than $672,000 of that goal as of Sunday morning. Part of a global organization, the fundraiser drives research toward treatment, prevention, and ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s.

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This year, organizers are expecting around 5,000 participants. Last year saw roughly 4,000, according to an association spokeswoman. 

“It’s incredible to see the support from the community for this event and the cause,” said Melissa Shirtcliff, senior manager of the Greater Boston Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “So many people, even here in Boston alone, have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease which makes this very important and personal to them. My connection to the cause is all the wonderful people that I work with — those living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia and their caregivers and families.”

Participants will wear purple, a color symbolic of “the calm stability of blue and the passionate energy of red,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Walkers will also carry flowers along the routes. 

“Because like flowers, our participants don’t stop when something’s in their way,” organizers said on the event page. “They keep raising funds and awareness for a breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.”

The world’s largest fundraiser for Alzheimer’s care, the walk helps fund face-to-face support and online education programs.

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More than 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are currently living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If nothing changes, experts expect that number to more than double over the next 30 years. One in three seniors dies of Alzheimer’s or another dementia, accounting for more deaths than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. The disease has taken more lives recently, with experts reporting a 16% increase in U.S. deaths due to Alzheimer’s and dementia over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The disease takes an enormous toll on loved ones as well. Last year, more than 11 million Americans acted as caregivers, providing nearly 15 billion hours of unpaid care valued at nearly $257 billion.

Alzheimer’s Disease by the numbers

72%: Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia who are age 75 or older.

12.7 million: People age 65 and older who will have Alzheimer’s by 2050, experts say.

2/3: Americans with Alzheimer’s who are women.

2 times: Older Black Americans are more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

1.5 times: Older Hispanics are more likely to have the disease.

4-8 years: The average that people 65 and older survive after a diagnosis, yet some live as long as 20 years with Alzheimer’s.

How to get involved

Those wishing to sign up for the Alzheimer’s walk can do so at the Alzheimer’s Association’s event page, and those who can’t participate but still wish to donate can do so online as well.

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Participants will have their choice of two paths: 1.5 miles or 3.5 miles, passing the U.S.S. Constitution in Charlestown. The walk starts at 8:30 a.m. at DCR North Point Park, which is located at 6 Museum Way in Cambridge, with ceremonies to follow at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. There is also a virtual option for participants who want to walk in their own neighborhoods. 

Due to COVID-19 protocols, organizers ask that participants practice social distancing. Further safety measures include contactless registration and hand sanitizing stations. Organizers also ask that all walk attendees be vaccinated against COVID-19, or wear a mask when in an overcrowded area. Masks will be available on site. 

Follow the hashtags #Walk2EndAlz and #ENDALZ on social media to stay informed about the event.

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