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Walking the walk for Alzheimer’s in Lourdes

When it comes to preventing Alzheimer's disease, researchers agree there are a number of danger factors to watch out for. Submitted image
When it comes to preventing Alzheimer's disease, researchers agree there are a number of danger factors to watch out for. Cynthia Skinner of Lourdes on the Port au Port Peninsula is the only registered walker in her community, but she raised $1,245 this year to help fight the disease. — Submitted image

Cynthia Skinner is a one-person fundraising committee in the tiny community

Every community has one.
Communities that have more than one are truly lucky, because dedicated volunteers are golden.

Cynthia Skinner is one of those. She has led the Investors Group walk for Alzheimer’s for the last 21 years in her hometown of Lourdes, a small Port au Port Peninsula community that’s home to just under 500 people.

The only registered walker in Lourdes, she raised $1,245 this year, and has she has raised more than $16,000 since she started.
A family member in Lourdes had previously done fundraising for Alzheimer’s.

Henry Joe Drake, a relative of Skinner’s, was stricken with Alzheimer’s and eventually had to be admitted to a long-term care facility in Bay St. George to receive care.

In order to support those faced with the same scenario, Teresa Drake and family started a variety bingo to raise money.

“My dad — Aloysius Drake, Jr., had Alzheimer’s,” Skinner said. “He was put in the home in 1993. After he went in the home, I decided I would do the walk and it started in 1997.”

She likes to collect money to help the Alzheimer’s Society as much as she can and also raise awareness of the disease in her community and beyond.

“Lourdes is a small place, about 500 people, so everyone knows everyone in the community.”
Her first walked netted $205 and this year she surpassed $1,240, bringing her total to approaching $17,000 in the 21 walks.

“The people here are very supportive. A lot of people in the community are aware of it and support me.”

Skinner is accompanied by her walking partner and sister-in-law Gail Skinner on what she calls a “fairly long walk.” She doesn’t know exactly how long the course is, but she does try to walk every day.

“Lourdes is a small place, about 500 people, so everyone knows everyone in the community.”
Cynthia Skinner

“I am 70 years old, so I do my best to stay healthy,” she said.

“I’m in a (Catholic Women’s League) group and I tell them and others what I am doing. They all support me in this.”
Skinner completed her walk May 25 this year. Because of the size of her community and the many people who support her each year, she contacts them early to see if they will continue their support. It’s getting tougher, though, as older people are passing on and the population is declining because youth are bolting for greener pastures. But she diligently seeks new sponsors.

“Others leave the community in April to go off to work and don’t come back until the fall. Sometimes they remember they pledged to help me, sometimes they forget,’’ she said.

Skinner is a retired teacher who spent 30 years teaching Grade 1 at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School. A year after her retirement, she began her fundraising efforts.

Why people walk

“The Walk creates awareness within communities to decrease stigma with the disease, and also connect people to our programs and services,” said Jessica Flynn, events planner, Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc.

“It is important for anyone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and their caregivers to know where to turn for support,’’ she added.

She said the programs and services are becoming increasingly important, as the number of seniors with dementia has jumped 83 per cent from 2002 to 2013, with nine seniors being diagnosed every hour.

“We depend on these fundraising efforts to continue to provide our programs and services, most notably our First Link Program, which provides education and support in navigating the system, as well as connecting people with the necessary services along their dementia journey,” Flynn said.
Flynn said in Newfoundland and Labrador there are 8,666 people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. There is also a large number of caregivers struggling with the management of this disease, highlighted in a recent report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information that found 45 per cent of unpaid caregivers experience burnout and the inability to cope.

“We currently receive no financial support from the government for our core services. We rely on the two signature fundraising events — Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s and Coffee Break — to fundraise enough to meet the growing needs within our province,’’ she said.

“The fundraising efforts of volunteers like Cynthia make it possible for us to continue to provide our much-needed programs and services.’’

More than 250 Walks are held in communities across Canada each year. In 2017, more than 25,000 walkers participated, collectively raising over $4.9 million.

samuel.mcneish@thetelegram.com

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