After the death of her husband, Barbara Tonge's involvement with the Alzheimer's Association became personal.
She has agreed to be chairwoman for the second annual Memory Walk in Carson City on Sept. 19.
Tongue's husband, Ayer, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1999 and died May 27, 2003, at age 82. Tonge, who is administrative assistant at the Carson City Senior Citizens Center, began noticing changes in him shortly after their move to Carson City. Repeating questions, misplacing things, and not being able to find or say simple words became more frequent.
"I never mentioned Alzheimer's to Ayer," Tonge said. "I suggested he see the doctor because he may have a vitamin deficiency."
Eventually, a psychiatrist and a specialist in elder care diagnosed him with Alzheimer's.
"I talked about it with Ayer - he seemed to understand, but didn't say much. When it's in your family, it puts you at higher risk. His mom had Alzheimer's."
Since the death of former President Ronald Reagan, awareness of Alzheimer's disease has grown tremendously.
The disease advances at different rates, and its duration may often vary from three to 20 years. The areas of the brain that control memory and thinking skills are affected first, but as the disease progresses, cells die in other regions of the brain.
"I think Ayer always knew who I was. But there was a look - kind of like a blank stare - he would have at times."
Tonge urges anyone with the slightest inkling that a family member may have Alzheimer's to seek help.
"I regret I didn't know there was as much help out there as there is," Tonge said.
"With Ayer, I became impatient and was frustrated, extremely frustrated. Then I felt guilty. I used to walk around in the back yard crying. I went in the back yard so he wouldn't see me.
"I would also have to sneak out of the house after going home for lunch because if he saw me leave, he'd start throwing things. And I'd feel guilty again. I'd cry all the way back to the office.
"That's why I started a support group at the senior center. I knew there had to be others in my situation."
The Memory Walk will begin at the Legislative Mall and follow the Blue Line Tour on Carson City's west side. Tonge is encouraging people to part of a team or walk solo to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern Nevada.
"The money that is raised in Nevada, stays in Nevada," Tonge said.
"One business can challenge another. Corporations can sponsor their own team - whatever it takes. We need walkers and we need donations."
Local programs provide education, patient and family services, advocacy and research.
"Use all the support groups you can find," Tonge said. "That's where anybody can start. The Alzheimer's Association is a wonderful place to start. Because the earlier you get help, the better."
If you go
What: Second annual Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk
When: Sept. 19 - registration 8:30 a.m., walk at 9:45 a.m.
Who: Open to individuals and teams
Where: Start at Legislative Mall, follow Blue Line Tour
Also: Free lunch, water and entertainment for participants; raffle and auction
Visit: Register at www.alznornev.org or call Barbara Tonge at 883-0703
Northern Nevada Alzheimer's help line: (800) 779-5711
Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1223.