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Sally Ward is shown with her mother, Betty Gferer, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.Submitted Photo

Wards are honorary chair family for Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer's

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John and Sally Ward of Baxter have traveled the road of Alzheimer's and dementia enough to know what happens to families when memories are stolen and the new normal becomes a moving target.

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The Wards will serve as the honorary chair family for the upcoming Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd.

John recalls the first time his family navigated the disease when his aunt Eleonor was diagnosed.

"She was a brilliant, classy, meticulous lady. Eventually Alzheimer's took that, and her memory of my uncle," he said.

"People always asked Uncle Donald why he visited every day without fail if she didn't recognize him," John said. "He would reply, 'She may not remember me, but I will never forget her.' This is the heartbreak for so many families."

In the time since his aunt's passing, the Ward family has seen the disease unravel among close relatives four more times, including with Sally's mom, Betty, and John's mom, Janice.

"We knew Mom was no longer safe at home when we were at her house for a visit and she kept denying her hands were bright blue," John said. "Sally discovered toilet bowl cleaner in the soap dispenser, and later — Pine Sol in the refrigerator. We can still have a conversation. But, she no longer recognizes me. She was always the life of the party and that has slowly shifted.

"The hardest part is watching people change from who they were. You know you are going to lose them, even if they are still physically here and strong," he said.

John said Sally's mom, Betty, was so worried she would forget her daughter.

"During one of our visits she looked at Sally and said, 'I only hope and pray that I never forget who you are.' That was a hard day."

The Wards have been steadfast participants in the Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer's.

"We need to be aggressive with this disease. I walk to bring hope, to honor those lost, and to help move research and development forward," John said. "The Alzheimer's population will continue to multiply with my generation and the next if we just stand by."

This is the sixth year for the Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer's. The event raises awareness and funds for local Alzheimer's resources and research. To find out more, visit alz.org/walk or call 218-733-2560.

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