, 2014

Alzheimer’s Association breaks
ice with ‘Reason to Hope’ event
First in a series

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

By the time Frank McCarthy had posed his final question, all but a handful of guests were standing at a recent Northern Neck/Middle Peninsula Alzheimer’s Association “Reason to Hope” breakfast.

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Frank McCarthy

Don Talbott

“How many of you have a parent or spouse with Alzheimer’s?” he asked. “How many with a friend or neighbor? How many just know someone with Alzheimer’s?”

With each question, more and more of the guests stood in the dining room at Indian Creek Yacht and Country Club. At the end, almost everyone in the room was standing, making a strong statement about how prevalent and far-reaching the disease is.

“For each person affected by Alzheimer’s, there are at least three others touched,” said McCarthy, a NN/MPAA board member.

Demographically, Lancaster and Northumberland are among the oldest counties in the state with one-third of the population over age 65, he said.

The sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s disease affects 130,000 people living in Virginia, according to Greater Richmond Chapter CEO Sherry Peterson.

She compared Alzheimer’s to a train trip, where at the beginning the surroundings and sites are familiar but as the journey continues things become increasingly unfamiliar. The places and faces are strange.

“This is a journey that 5.4 million Americans are on,” said Peterson.

“While you may meet a survivor of a heart attack or cancer, you will never meet a survivor of Alzheimer’s,” she said.

The association, which held its Reason to Hope breakfast as both a fundraiser and an awareness event, helps to educate family members and professional caregivers and offer caregivers respite.

Don Talbott, who serves on the advisory council, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 39. Now 47, he started having more and more memory issues at work and thought it was stress, he said. Then one day, he got lost going to work on a drive he had taken hundreds of times.

“I was at first relieved,” he said when the doctor gave him the diagnosis. “I thought it was a memory thing but then I started reading about it and realized I was going to die.”

Talbott said it is a blessing he still has the ability to communicate his ideas fluently.

“I believe God gave me this tool to speak,” said Talbott. It’s a gift “God gave me to make people aware that this is not just an old people disease.”

Talbott told guests that, as a boy, he remembers asking his grandfather the origin of names, to which his grandfather explained: One name you are born with, another is given to you by your parents, and the third name is the name you make for yourself.

“I want my third name to be survivor,” said Talbott. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be a story at a fundraiser.”

The Alzheimer’s breakfast lasted only an hour. Guests, many of them businessmen and women in Lancaster and Northumberland counties, headed to their offices at its conclusion. But the world didn’t stop during breakfast, explained McCarthy. During that hour 39 people were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

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