By Josh Shepherd, News writer
When William Glass decided to move from Chicago to Atlanta, people may have thought it strange that the Alzheimer’s Association advocate took four months to prepare.
But those were the ones who didn’t know his grand plan. Like the people he met along the way who shared with him their stories of life with Alzheimer’s Disease, he planned on making the journey one step at a time.
Hauling a 25-pound blue backpack, Glass, 37, has embarked upon an amibitious hike north to south to raise public awareness about Alzheimer’s. It is a project he cannot accomplish any better than by being on the ground where he can meet personally with caregivers and the victims of this devastating disease in the cities and small towns he encounters.
Glass was close to reaching the halfway point on his trek when he arrived in Cynthiana last Friday morning. He was stopped for a rest at the public library downtown, downloading a record of his progress on his Twitter feeds and on his personal Facebook page, “Flowers for Mom.”
“I have collected stories from so many wonderful people and families on my walk. There is not a person that has not been touched by the effects of this disease in some way,” Glass said.
While visiting Cynthiana, Glass met several local people and added their stories to his growing collection of anecdotes. Among the people he met at the library was Marilyn Wash. She has been participating in a long term research project into the disease and, in a gesture that brought tears to Glass’ eye, she showed him where she had agreed to donate her brain after death to UK for continued studies.
A personal journey
Glass also has a personal stake in this journey. His walk is not purely for fundraising or publicity. He is moving to Atlanta so that he can be closer to his mother, Eileen Glass. She is a victim suffering from the disease and sadly, he said, it is slowly claiming her.
“I want us to be able to spend precious time together while we still have it,” Glass said.
In the meantime, Glass has turned this relocation of his into a crusade to raise awareness about this disease.
According to association statistics, even though Alzheimer’s is ranked sixth among the top 10 of fatal diseases affecting Americans, well behind the fatality rates of cancer and heart disease, this country spends more on its treatment, an estimated $206 billion, than for those other two diseases combined.
Mortality rates in the last 10 years have decreased in all the major diseases except Alzheimer’s. In that category, deaths have increased 68 percent in the last decade.
One thing that has become painfully clear among the stories that people have shared with him is that Alzheimer’s is not exclusive to the elderly. It arises in people of all ages and often without much warning or early treatment.
During his visit to Indianapolis, Glass said he met an Alzheimers Association member who began displaying symptoms of the disease at 46 years old.
“He is 52 now and the process of memory deterioration is accelerating,” Glass said.
He has also spoken with a 36-year-old Alzheimer’s victim.
“Some of these stories really hit close to home. I’m only a year older than this man.”
Perhaps the story that has had the greatest impact on Glass personally was interviewing a caretaker whose cousin began developing symptoms at 18. The cousin is now 26-years-old and is rapidly descending into advanced stages of the disease.
“Early onset of the disease often means that it advances faster and kills more rapidly,” Glass said.
Given all the facts surrounding Alzheimer’s, one would think there would be advanced diagnostic procedures for detecting the disease early. While there is still no cure, early medical interventions can slow the progress of the disease and allow persons to live longer in a better quality of life.
Health care providers are often hesitant to enter a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. It is hard to make a determination of the disease in its earliest stages.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, half of the people living with some form of the disease never are diagnosed with it. However, a clear majority of people who experience consistent memory problems or moments of confusion want to be able to rule out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause.
Therefore, in addition to his work to raise awareness about the disease and to raise funds in support of the work of the Alzheimer’s Association, during this walk Glass is also meeting with legislators lobbying for support of the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act.
The bill, which was re-introduced into both the House and Senate in Washington D.C. this year would provide Medicare funding for the treatment and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Individuals receiving early diagnosis would get access to information on treatment options and support services to help them plan for the progress of the disease.
Before leaving Chicago, Glass and several Alzheimer Association volunteers met with Illinois legislators to advocate for passage of the HOPE act. He has had similar meetings with federal legislators in Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Following Labor Day, he will be taking volunteers to speak in Lexington.
He anticipates arriving in Atlanta in the next three weeks to present the Association with the money he has raised on his journey. A large reception is planned.
Afterwards, however, his plans are much more simple. He’ll move into an apartment, then walk to his mother’s home.
“We’ll probably go for a walk somewhere,” he said.