Cynthia Valencia’s mom showed signs of dementia in her late 50s and was diagnosed in her early 60s. Now at 71, she is in hospice and in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.
Valencia’s eyes welled up during a meeting last week at the offices of the NI when she spoke about her mother and how she is the inspiration for her to help others affected directly or indirectly by the ravages of Alzheimer’s. And there are a lot of them. It is one of the top killers in the United States, where 5.2 million people affected with the disease. In Arizona there are 120,000 affected with Alzheimer’s and in Santa Cruz County, approximately 1,500 people.
Kelly Raach, regional director of the Desert Southwest Chapter Southern Arizona Region of the Alzheimer’s Association, said a common refrain is that, “Everyone knows somebody or is somehow touched by somebody with Alzheimer’s.” She points to statistics that indicate that one in three people over 85 have Alzheimer’s and one in nine people over 65 have the disease.
While her office is in Tucson, Raach is a product of Nogales Public Schools and lived previously in this community. She found a strong ally in Valencia in her mission to “give back to my community” through outreach and education about the Alzheimer’s, which, she noted, is prevalent among Hispanics due to high incidence of chronic diseases among that population.
The South East Area Health Education Center (SEAHEC) in Nogales hosts a meeting in Spanish for patients and their spouses the fourth Friday of every month that draws about 40 participants, she said. It coincides with an art group that caregivers provide patients.
But Raach said she believes it’s just the tip of the iceberg and would like to see other groups form, and offer English-language sessions in Santa Cruz County.
Currently, Raach and Valencia are also focused on organizing and encouraging teams to form for an upcoming walk-a-thon. It is planned for 10 a.m. at Quail Creek in Green Valley on Saturday, Oct. 18. Proceeds are used to fund cutting-edge research, a help line, family care consultations, support groups, education programs and a nationwide program that reduces wandering risks, focuses on home safety and mobilizes first responders.
Larry Kempton, president of the Verde Valley Rotary Club in Green Valley, has also been a longtime promoter and supporter of association. His club has formed a team and features the walk-a-thon in the club newsletter to help spread the word. He was joined at the discussion on Tuesday, July 15 by his colleagues Tony Vartola and Rudy Pina, presidents of the Rio Rico and Nogales clubs, respectively. Both agreed to invite Raach to their meetings for a presentation to their members.
Raach and Valencia are urging other folks in Santa Cruz County to join the battle to end Alzheimer’s.
“I would say that 87 percent of the money raised for a specific community is spent on that community,” Raach said. The balance pays for administrative costs.
Raach’s territory covers a huge swath from Yuma to Graham and Greenlee counties. “You can see why we rely heavily on volunteers,” she said.