Families walk to raise money to improve care, find cure for Alzheimer's Event honors sufferers with "Wall of Memories'

October 23, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,SUN STAFF

Joseph Muth Sr., a retired pharmaceutical salesman who cared for wounded soldiers during World War II, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1984. He was 61.

Eleven years later, Mr. Muth is alive, but the caring father and loving husband his wife and nine children once knew has passed into memory.

So Mr. Muth's wife and two daughters joined 250 other people yesterday to raise $60,000 in pledges for the eighth annual Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk at Memorial Stadium. The money is to be spent on improving care for victims of the disease and for research toward a cure for the slow, fatal, memory-robbing illness.

The family members, caregivers and corporate sponsors who had assembled also launched a way of remembering past victims and honoring those still living with the disease: a "Wall of Memories" papered with photographs of Alzheimer's sufferers.

The wall had a modest beginning, with three cork-board panels hinged together and set up in a stadium parking lot bordering 33rd Street.

The wall held two photos of Mr. Muth. One was taken before the onset of the disease, with Mr. Muth smiling, a flash of happiness in his eyes and his hands raised slightly, as if to amplify his words.

"That's really him," his wife, Joan, said of the old photograph.

The second photo shows a much paler, aged man with limp hands, his expressionless face and glassy eyes peering from beneath the wide brim of a colorfully embroidered red sombrero.

"They [caregivers] dressed him up that day," Mrs. Muth explained.

Among the snapshots of marchers' family members were magazine photos of celebrities who suffered from the disease, including 1940s pin-up Rita Hayworth, painter Norman Rockwell and boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Two larger photographs reminded walkers of Baltimore Colts linebacker Bill Pellington, who died last year, and former President Ronald Reagan, who also has the disease.

"It started with people wearing signs with pictures of the person in whose memory they were walking," said Cass Naugle, executive director of the association. Now the association is welcoming nursing centers, hospitals, families and support groups to contribute to a memory wall board. The boards could contain photographs, names, messages or stories about victims of the disease and their loved ones.

This year's 3 1/2 -mile walk, which followed 33rd Street and went around Lake Montebello, also had a political theme.

Ms. Naugle said organizers gave walkers fliers encouraging them to write to their representatives in Congress to urge continued support for federal funding of long-term care.

"These cuts can be incredibly financially devastating to families," Ms. Naugle said. Families often care for victims for five or six years before their finances are exhausted, and then must rely on Medicaid for care.

Mrs. Muth said that while she has nine children and they can share the financial burdens of caring for Mr. Muth, not all families are as fortunate or as prepared to cope with the disease.

Ms. Naugle said one of the walkers yesterday was a 52-year-old man who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter.

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