Nov 052015

I don’t have Alzheimer’s, and I’m not a caregiver for someone who does. I have no family members suffering from Alzheimer’s. In fact, my family has no history of Alzheimer’s disease.

My name is Wes, I’m 36 years old, and the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice for more than 10 years.wes1

“What?” “Why?”

It’s true; I’m not your “typical” advocate. But the truth is that this disease has made a lasting impression on me and in my life.

While working as a journalist in 2004, I was asked to write a story about Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know much about the disease. After completing some initial research, I felt the best way to tell the story was to interview people who were suffering from Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and care partners.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the interviews were heart-wrenching. At times, I cried. A grandmother was forgetting her granddaughter; a father his daughter. These wonderful and kind people were forgetting their most cherished memories and everything they once were as each day went by. The toll on their caregivers, I learned, was immense too.

Since then, the Alzheimer’s Association has been my charity of choice. Currently, I’m the marketing chair for the Miami Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and no matter where I’ve lived (Lafayette, St. Louis, Memphis and Miami), I’ve raised funds and have walked to end Alzheimer’s.

This year I had the opportunity to fly before I Walk. On July 30, as the 18th recipient of the JetBlue “Flying It Forward” ticket, I flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago to visit the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. My goal was to meet the leaders who are fighting this disease and take their best practices back to the Southeast Florida chapter.

I learned about the programs the Association offers, its research efforts, and Walk to End Alzheimer’s marketing and fundraising tips. I also visited the National Contact Center, where the 24/7 free, helpline is answered.  Did you know the National Contact Center handles an average of 3,750 calls a week?! I learned a lot during my visit and I will cherish the trip for the rest of my life.

wes2Here are a few of the things I learned:

  1. Wear your Walk shirt – Walk to End Alzheimer’s shirts are not just for Walks. Wear them throughout the year, especially in high-traffic areas such as airports, sporting events and shopping malls. People will approach you and ask about your involvement and the cause and may even share their personal stories.
  2. Memorize the 24/7 Helpline – If someone approaches you with interest in or needs help from the Alzheimer’s Association, offer the 800.272.3900 24/7 Helpline! You can also print business cards with the helpline info on it so you can easily hand it out.
  3. Tell your story – Storytelling allows you to make a connection with people. Share your story to increase your Walk fundraising and raise awareness of this disease. My personal fundraising spiked when WGN TV featured my trip after I had asked people to share my story through their social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
  4. Get creative – I have friends who always want me to join Facebook even though I’ve opposed it for years. But then I saw an opportunity: I told them that if I raised $10,000 to end Alzheimer’s, I would join, and many of them have donated!

Just as Alzheimer’s has made a lasting impression on me, I hope to make a lasting impression by continuing to join Walk every year. It’s important to note that JetBlue did not select me for the program that resulted in my visit to the Alzheimer’s Association National Office. Amy, the past recipient of the “Flying It Forward” ticket, chose me because she has two uncles who are suffering from Alzheimer’s.

So when I walk in Miami in November, I’m now Walking for them too.

About the Author: Wes Milligan is a communications advisor at FedEx Express, Latin America & Caribbean Division, where he is responsible for internal and external communications. Wes lives and works in Miami. You can visit his Walk page here.

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Sep 182014

Everyone has a reason to end Alzheimer’s, including four-year-old Lilly Myers of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Her great-grandmother or “Nanny,” Patty Lewis, 82, is one of the more than 5 million Americans living with the disease.blog42

To honor Nanny, Lilly is participating in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® — the world’s largest event to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease — in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. But the preschooler isn’t just walking; she’s the top fundraiser for the 80-plus-person Nanny’s Team, made up of Lewis’s family and friends.

In 2013, the inaugural season for Nanny’s Team, the then-three-year-old Lilly raised $250. “She would get excited each time we logged in [to her online participant center] and the status bar denoting her level of money had been colored in more,” said Lilly’s mother, Amy Myers.

Lilly went door to door asking for donations. Her solicitation was simple: “My name is Lilly and I am doing a charity walk for Alzheimer’s, would you like to sponsor me?”

This year, Lilly has raised more than $2,900 and set a goal of receiving a donation from every state. As the funds came in from around the country, she colored in the corresponding states on a United States map. On Aug. 16, Lilly excitedly shaded in her last state, Vermont. She also listed her international donations — those from Canada, Germany and Australia — on the side of her map.blog4

“When asked what the money is for, Lilly will tell you that it’s for people who are sick with Alzheimer’s disease. She will tell you that sometimes Nanny forgets her name or that she already gave her hugs and kisses, but she knows that Nanny never forgets that she loves her,” Myers said. “As Nanny slips away from us, it’s heartwarming to know that Lilly is old enough that she’ll always have a memory of her time with Nanny.”

To supplement their fundraising efforts, Lilly and her cousins held a lemonade stand at festivals and farmers markets in their community. The children split more than $1,000 in proceeds, each applying a share to their individual fundraising total.

At $30,000 and counting, Nanny’s Team is the top fundraising team for the Carmichaels Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which took place on Sept. 6. All funds will help advance the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association. Each year, with the help of more than 400,000 participants at events in over 600 communities nationwide, the Association moves closer to realizing its vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease.


To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or to get involved with the cause, visit or call 800.272.3900.

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Sep 112014

MVShowTelevision talk show host and journalist Meredith Vieira launched “The Meredith Vieira Show” earlier this month. On the second episode of her nationally syndicated daytime show, Meredith committed to bringing awareness to Alzheimer’s disease and the cause by welcoming actor Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller. They spoke about how the Alzheimer’s diagnosis of Lauren’s mom affected their lives and how they have created awareness for the cause through their fundraising event Hilarity for Charity. Other notable guests were Ken Dobson and his wife Nikki, who explained how the diagnosis of Ken’s early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 29 has affected their lives. In addition, there was a huge surprise at the end of the show. Watch the videos to hear the stories and to see the surprise ending of the episode that even Meredith didn’t know about!


Watch Lauren Miller and husband Seth Rogen talk about how Lauren’s mother’s Alzheimer’s affected their relationship in the video below.

Lauren Miller talks about how her wedding day three years ago was the last time she really connected with her mom:

Ken and Nikki Dodson of Adrian, Michigan talk about Ken’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis at age 29 in the video below.

Watch the generous surprise for Meredith, a donation made to the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of her late brother Steve:


Thank you to everyone who donated to the Alzheimer’s Association and also to those who participated in this important TV episode to raise awareness of the disease.

You can make a difference, too. Donate to the Alzheimer’s Association or raise funds by participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which is happening in more than 600 communities nationwide this fall.

Dec 102013

I love participating in the annual Walks to End Alzheimer’s, but let’s face it – walking can be boring. For my first Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2012, I raised more than $1,500. One year later, my donations netted nearly $9,000 for my local Alzheimer’s Association through a fun and creative tribute to my brother, Kevin.

Prior to the summer of 2013, my summer hobby became the campaign “Bobbleheads United to End Alzheimer’s.” I collected my own and also asked people to send me their stadium bobbleheads; for each bobblehead I received, I would in turn make a donation to my Walk effort. I was in the midst of my 2012 tour when I received the news that my brother had passed away.

Distance had unfortunately separated us for much of our adult lives, and I never had the experience of riding the rails with my brother as an adult. Kevin would travel the world seeking thrills on all kinds of roller coasters, from the modern steel hyper-coasters of today to classic “woodies” from the mid to late 20th century. At Kevin’s memorial service, the topic of coasters was discussed at length. It was at that time that I decided that in my bobblehead chasing travels, I would ride as many roller coasters as I could find along the way as a tribute to Kevin.  As fall and winter set in, a proverbial light bulb was lit. What if, in preparation for the 2013 Walk, I set out to ride as many roller coasters as I could, and see if friends and family would pledge a per-ride donation? I began planning my new summer tour and fundraising effort: “Roller Coaster Crawls to End Alzheimer’s.”

Laying Tracks

I set a goal of 100 roller coaster rides in 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day. I hit every theme park within a six-hour drive from Rochester NY, from the big corporate parks to the smaller, family-run parks. I purchased season passes to several theme parks, but I quickly came to the realization that this might be a costly endeavor. My friend Marian had experience in professional fundraising, and she helped me contact the smaller parks to spread my mission. She even established a great relationship with Six Flags Great Escape. Meanwhile, the pledges started rolling in. My friends stepped up to the plate, with pledges ranging from 25¢ to $2.00 per ride! I had to get over any fears I may have had, suck it up, and ride.

On each ride, my brother rode with me in spirit. In fact, Kevin’s Facebook account was still active for some time after his passing, so I was actually able to “tag” him as being with me on virtually every ride. Although this was mostly a symbolic action, there were several instances throughout my travels that I know he was with me… if not physically, spiritually.

Media Attention

As the tour began to pick up speed, Marian and I had reached out to media in the cities I would be visiting. A local news outlet expressed interest in my mission, and reporter Seth Voorhees and I spent much of the day filming my rides and talking about my brother, his plight and the scourge that is Alzheimer’s. The 2 ½ minute piece they aired was a hit! Calls began coming in with new pledges and well wishes. The story caught the eye of Sal Fantauzzo, founder of Salvatore’s Old Fashioned Pizzeria, a large chain of pizzerias in the greater Rochester region. Sal was so touched by the story that he offered to match all of my pledges at the end of the tour. The news story and matching donations from Salvatore’s provided a catalyst for even more growth, and I was back on the road again.

Fearless Fun

I plotted out the rest of the tour, conveniently scheduling ride #100 for August 21st on Coney Island’s “Cyclone”. This ride would be especially significant as not only would it be the ride that fulfilled my goal of 100 rides, but it was also the last coaster Kevin rode before his passing. In the end, I actually rode 122 roller coasters in as many days, including:

  • Seabreeze Amusement Park on the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester
  • Six Flags New England on Memorial Day weekend
  • Waldameer Park in Erie, PA. When people ask “What was your favorite roller coaster of the tour?” I immediately respond: “Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer Park.”
  • Rye Playland, Knoebel’s Amusement Park, DelGrosso’s, Six Flags Great Adventure
  • Lakemont Park, a small amusement park with the prestige of having the “Oldest Operating Roller Coaster in the World”, Leap the Dips, a landmark dating back to 1902
  • Lake Compounce and Quassy Amusement Park
  • Morey’s Piers in the Wildwoods, NJ, boasting three ocean side piers of entertainment
  • Sylvan Beach, where I enjoyed the “Galaxi”  for ride #95

Hershey Park is where I had the strongest feeling that Kevin was accompanying me on the tour. He was passionate about the Grateful Dead, so it seemed like more than coincidence that the music in the park that day was Jerry Garcia material seemingly direct from his collection.

The Cause

My pledges were all based on the “honor system”; I cannot tell you how impressed I am with my donors for their willingness to fulfill their pledges. Some apologized for not contributing “enough” due to their particular situations. I assured these folks that any amount would be appreciated by those facing Alzheimer’s.

This cause is passionately burned into my personality now. I don’t think that I shall ever stop raising funds and awareness for this cause. The things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen are easily the best things I’ve ever done in my 52 years on this earth. But I still miss my brother. A lot…

What Next?

How about a 16-hour roller coaster marathon for Alzheimer’s Association The Longest Day on  June 21, 2014? Sure… why not? Two of my planned stops are Cedar Point in Ohio and Six Flags Great America in Illinois for the new coaster “Goliath”!

Did you Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2013? Leave a comment about your experience and why you Walk – or ride, like Michael!

About the blog author: Michael joined more than 400,000 others by Walking to End Alzheimer’s in 2013. He walked in memory of his brother Kevin J. Moran who succumbed to early on-set Alzheimer’s at age 54 after a three-year battle with the disease. A card-carrying ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) member, fun-loving Kevin traveled the world riding new and vintage rollercoasters, and Michael followed suit. Share your stories from the 2013 Walk season on Facebook and Twitter and on ALZConnected.


Sep 242013

The first change I noticed in my dad was his inability to write out checks.  I stopped by his office one day, and he was sitting at his desk with the checkbook open.  Several balled-up checks were scattered on his desk. He was slow to speak, but finally admitted that he could not write out the check correctly. On one check, he had transposed the numbers for the amount to be paid.  On another check, he had attempted to write his name on the “payee” line, but the scrawl did not look like his signature.  He was so frustrated, confused and scared. This was so unlike him—a man who had always been so confident, organized and in control. This was just the beginning of many changes in his personality and behavior.

My dad had Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that robs the mind. It also breaks the hearts of family members who helplessly watch as their loved one slips away.

Fred Is Not ForgottenAs time went on, my dad, who had always been an impeccable dresser, no longer seemed to care about his appearance. He would mix prints with plaids, and chose to wear the same red sweater every day, even though he had a closet full of clothes. Eventually, he had to go into a 24-hour nursing facility, as he would wander at all times of night and became combative.

It was devastating for family and friends when we realized that he had slipped into his own little, confused world and did not recognize any of us. At times he mistook me for his sister or his wife.  Later, he ignored everyone but my brother, and their discussions were limited to talking about the family business. Eventually, all of his visitors were greeted by a blank stare.  As his journey came to an end, his muscles became rigid.  He could no longer sit up or walk.  He died in a fetal position, three years after the initial diagnosis.

His bout with the disease was relatively short in comparison to that of many victims, but his condition, decline and death have had a lasting effect on me. Twenty-five years later, every time I forget a word needed to complete a sentence or forget where I put something, I fear I may have the same fate.  Since his death, more attention has been given to Alzheimer’s; however, more attention is needed. It is now the sixth leading cause of death and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

On October 13, 2013, I will Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Tower City Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

I will walk in memory of my dad, Fred Grair, Sr., and other family members who have been affected by Alzheimer’s.

walk to end crowd

I will walk to allay my fear of contracting the disease.

I will walk on behalf of the more than 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s.

I will walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s awareness, support, care and research.

I will walk for you.

Today, more than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer’s.  If you have not been impacted in some one by this terrible disease, consider yourself fortunate.  Soon, no one will be untouched.  Please walk with me to end Alzheimer’s.

About the blog author:  Stephanie Grair Ashford is steering committee member and team captain for the 2013 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio.  You can donate to her team, Fred’s Not Forgotten.

This column originally appeared in the Sun News.

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