Vail Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s comes to Eagle on Saturday, Oct. 20 | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s comes to Eagle on Saturday, Oct. 20

EAGLE — Edwards resident Melinda Gladitsch can personally attest to the cruelty of Alzheimer's disease.

"I lost my mother about a year ago to Alzheimer's," Gladitsch said. "I should say that she passed away last year, but really I lost her several years before that."

Before she succumbed to Alzheimer's, Gladitsch said her mom — Twylla — was a vibrant woman. But during the last six years of her life, she slipped away in inches.

"It's such a cruel disease. It's hard on families, and it's hard on everyone who is touched by it. It's just so painful to watch," Gladitsch said.

Gladitsch's story is heartbreaking, but it isn't unique. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Currently, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, and by 2050, that figure is projected to reach nearly 14 million. Alzheimer's claims more lives each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates 16.1 million Americans currently provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. In addition to the human toll, the financial impact of the disease is staggering. According to the Alzheimer's Association, in 2018, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will cost the nation $277 billion.

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But for all the huge numbers, Alzheimer's remains a very intimate disease for anyone affected, along with their friends and families.

After watching her mother's struggles, Gladitsch feels a personal urgency regarding the disease.

"It is very frightening to think it can happen to any of us," she said. "There is a ton of research going on, but we need funding."

Residents of Eagle County will help address that financial need on Saturday, Oct. 20, when the Walk to End Alzheimer's comes to Eagle.

Local effort

Walk to End Alzheimer's events are held throughout the nation, but this year's fundraiser is the first for Eagle County. It is happening thanks to the efforts of the Denver Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and local organizers part-time Beaver Creek resident Gary Wicklund and Chuck Smallwood, of Edward Jones.

Back in 1987, Wicklund lost his mother to the disease, and since then, he has been steadfast in his efforts to educate the public about Alzheimer's and raise money for treatment and research.

Last year, he helped to present a special Alzheimer's disease program at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. The program drew more than 460 people.

With that kind of local interest, Wicklund lobbied the Denver group to plan a local Walk to End Alzheimer's.

"I told them, 'These people in Vail, they know how to walk,'" Wicklund said. As a result, the event at Brush Creek Park in Eagle is one of 11 walks planned in Colorado this year.

All welcome

It will be free to participate in the Vail Valley Walk to End Alzheimer's, but donations are suggested. Various local businesses and individuals have formed fundraising walk teams in preparation for the event. As of Thursday afternoon, Oct. 18, nearly 300 people had signed up to walk.

The walk is not arduous. It covers 2 miles around Eagle Ranch. Before walkers set out, a special program will be presented, and after the walk is completed, there will be time for socializing.

Wicklund said the fundraising goal for Saturday is $100,000, and he is optimistic about the valley's ability to come up with that amount.

"It's a great opportunity to get out and show support for Alzheimer's efforts. Wear purple and join us," he said.

If you go …

What: Walk to End Alzheimer’s Vail Valley.

When: Saturday, Oct. 10; registration begins at 10 a.m., and walk begins at 11:30 a.m.

Where: Brush Creek Park and Pavilion at Eagle Ranch, Eagle.

More information: To register or donate, visit https://www.alz.org and click on “Find Your Walk.” The website also offers more information about Alzheimer’s Disease.