When a Bartholomew County native wore a yellow flower during the 2016 Columbus Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the color designated he was a caregiver.

But when the fundraiser returns to Mill Race Park on Sunday, the purple flower worn by Jason Slinker will symbolize that the suffering of the mother he cared for is now over.

Eva Nell Slinker went through various stages of Alzheimer’s Disease for 10 years before she died May 24 at the age of 68, her son said.

In the latter stages, his mother would cling to a baby-shaped doll that represented two of her children who died several years ago, he said.

“She was the kindest and sweetest woman, and you could see a short glimmer of that before it was gone,” Jason Slinker said. “It took her mind and body, but Alzheimer’s never took her soul.”

Just north of Columbus, a woman living in the Woodland Park area maintains similar fond thoughts for her husband, who is now in the late stage of Alzheimer’s.

“He doesn’t walk, doesn’t talk and can’t feed himself,” Donna Richardson said about her husband, David. “But every once in a while, there is a fleeting moment of clarity.”

Those moments often come a half-hour or so into a meal, she said. That’s when David Richardson will suddenly turn to his wife as if he just noticed her and appear grateful she was still by his side, Donna Richardson said.

“At times, he might clearly say, ‘I love you’ or at least get a part of the words out,” she said. “Although his situation is not good, I believe he still has the feelings and thoughts of the man I love, and that makes me feel so good.”

Neither Jason Slinker nor Donna Richardson were surprised to learn that support of the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s has grown rapidly.

Last year, the event raised more than $116,000, said Kyle Davern, Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Indiana chapter development specialist. As of Tuesday, the fundraiser had recruited 428 participants, 66 teams and almost $52,000 in pledges, he said.

Since most participants sign up right before the event, it appears the walk is on course to reach or exceed the amount raised last year, Davern said.

Registration begins at noon Sunday at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St., and the walk will immediately follow the 1:15 p.m. opening “Promise Garden” ceremony.

The ceremony involves participants creating flowers representing their promise to remember, honor, care and fight for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

Besides raising money, the walk also gives caregivers the opportunity to talk with others and share their thoughts and concerns, Slinker said.

Although the past and present certainly have shaped what Slinker and Richardson think about Alzheimer’s foundation, it’s the future that dominates their thoughts regarding the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death, according to the National Alzheimer’s Association.

Above the age of 65, a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every five years, according to another organization, the Alzheimer’s Society. The organization estimates that dementia affects one in 14 people over 65 and one in six over 80.

Just months after his mother died, Slinker said his father, Larry Slinker, has developed symptoms of senile dementia, which prompted him to move his dad into an assisted-living facility.

The fact that both of David Richardson’s parents died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease has caused his wife substantial concern, she said.

“I have two sons and grandkids,” Donna Richardson said. “I want a cure before another loved one becomes a victim of this disease.”

Conducted annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s raised more than $82.4 million last year.

Today, it is considered the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for care, support and research programs.

For those who can’t participate in Sunday’s walk, Davern said donations will be accepted through the end of the year.

If you go

What: Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s

When: Sunday

Time: Registration, which is free, begins at noon at Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St., Columbus. The walk in Mill Race Park will begin after the 1:15 p.m. opening ceremony.

Information: 800-272-3900 or online at alz.org/walk

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.