EDEN PRAIRIE — When Laurie Sparks thinks of her grandfather, her favorite memories include long, care-free summer days.
“Some of my fondest memories are of going to my grandparents’ house in summer and spending days on the lake, skiing and swimming,” Sparks said.
Those happy days ended when Sparks was in college and her grandfather, Gale Edward Libby, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He later died from the disease.
Sparks is now director of wellness at Summit Place Senior Campus in Eden Prairie, where she works with many residents and their loved ones as they live with Alzheimer’s. Honoring her grandfather and everyone at Summit living with the disease led her to organize a team for The Longest Day last year.
One of the Alzheimer’s Association’s major annual fundraisers, The Longest Day, is held on the summer solstice. People are invited to team up with the association and select any activity they love — or an activity loved by someone they know affected by Alzheimer’s. The teams raise funds and awareness for care and support while advancing research toward the first survivor of Alzheimer’s.
Searching for a cure
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Between 2000 and 2015 deaths from heart disease decreased by 11 percent, while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 123 percent. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and it kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
The Longest Day seeks to shed light on these statistics, and the lives of the people behind them, while raising funds for research.
“For someone impacted by the disease every day can feel like the longest day, so on the longest day of year thousands do something they love to honor the people they love,” said Bridget Rissmann, public relations and social media manager for the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota chapter.
“People do all kinds of things from playing bridge to going fishing to barbecues and puzzle contests. I just worked with a woman whose mom had the disease and loved gardening, so her group is going to plant trees at the community garden to honor her mom. It’s a neat way to take a passion and raise awareness and funds.”
At Summit Place, The Longest Day activities will include a day-long Nustep marathon (the exercise is done on a non-weight bearing machine that works both legs and arms in an easy push-pull motion that anyone, including people with Alzheimer’s, can do), a bake sale and a lunchtime Twins game viewing party.
“Just about everybody in the building is affected by the disease,” Sparks said. “The day is a way to show love and support for our Reflections memory care residents, those caring for them and their families.”