Local Alzheimer's advocates

Leesburg resident Nicole Erderlyi (center) addresses a crowd at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Reston on October 24.

When Leesburg resident Nicole Erderlyi’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 10 years ago at the age of 77, it triggered an innate desire to help others who are struggling with the impacts of the brain disease.

As a student at Radford University, she created a club that participated in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in nearby Blacksburg, an event held in more than 600 communities nationwide.

In the years since graduating from college and moving back to Leesburg, Erderlyi has advocated on Capitol Hill to raise awareness and funding for Alzheimer’s treatment and continues to raise money with the hope that one day researchers will find a cure.

This year’s event, held Sunday in Reston, was even more meaningful because her grandmother died earlier this year, a few months before her 87th birthday. On Sunday, the 768 participants raised over $216,000. As of Monday morning, Erderlyi was the top fundraiser for the Walk raising nearly $3,800.

“The different stages of the disease broke my heart,” she said. “I’m trying to do my part to help as I feel this is the best way to honor my grandmother. We were lucky to have her physical presence as long as we did. It’s definitely a sad disease.”

According the National Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and there are an estimated six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term for the loss of memory and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or a way to stop or slow its progression.

Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.

The disease also pays a toll on more than 11 million Americans who provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s.

Jennifer Murphy, who works for an Edward Jones office in Fredericksburg, a premier national sponsor for the Alzheimer’s Association, said that for six years she was a full-time caregiver for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s and her father who had Lewy Body Dementia, a degenerative condition similar to Alzheimer’s.

She now serves as a regional coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association fundraising efforts at Edward Jones.

“I’m amazed to see the level of support from Edward Jones, who truly supports this mission,” she said.

Murphy said being a caregiver was incredibly difficult and is glad she can give back to the organization and help support their research and fundraising efforts.

Leesburg resident Bill Korby, another local advocate who also works for Edward Jones, participated in the Sunday event, and also coordinated a golf tournament benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association the following day at Raspberry Falls Golf Club in Leesburg.

Korby was inspired by his father who had Alzheimer’s, which his family did not know about until after his mother died.

“We learned that she was his GPS and that she didn’t want us all to know what she was dealing with because she was afraid we’d make her move from their home. So, she cared for him and did a great job of keeping all of us in the dark about the challenges she faced by herself every day,” Korby said.

His father ended up living with Korby’s sister in New York, which the family soon discovered how expensive caring for an Alzheimer’s parent can be and how much the disease affects the entire family.

“It’s heart breaking to have your father looking at a picture of your mother and him asking who she was. They were married for over 50 years. He wanted to know if they liked each other,” Korby said.

“I know so many families think this story won’t be part of their family’s story. We didn’t either. This is why I am an Alzheimer’s Association advocate. I want to do what I can to help find a treatment/cure for this disease. I would also encourage people to get educated about the disease and plan for this risk,” he said.

Aldie resident Meredith Hannan, who is also a regular participant in the annual event, said since she started participating, she estimates she has raised between $30,000 to $40,000.

Hannan has two uncles who have passed away from Alzheimer’s.

“I know personally the effects of this horrible disease,” Hannan said. “I say that it is a disease that has the loss of a loved one twice: first with the loss of their memory and their acknowledgment of you, and then physically when they pass away. I like to think of them in Heaven, free of the weight of Alzheimer’s. They are fully restored in memory and health and at peace,” she said.“Alzheimer’s is a disease that has no cure so we walk until there is a cure and there is a survivor, period,” Hannan said. “We do it because they can’t and too many people have died already and too many families have had to grieve the loss of their loved one twice. Enough is enough.”

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