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Alzheimer’s is a very lonely disease.

Even as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, oftentimes patients and caregivers feel isolated from others around them, while dealing with the effects of a disease for which there is no cure. But there is hope, and the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter wants to get out the word that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are here to help.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a free helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that is staffed by masters-level counselors providing support, crisis assistance and information about available local resources. The helpline number is 1-800-272-3900.

“(After diagnosis), we want the first call to be to our helpline,” Jen Manning, special events director for the Alabama chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said. She noted that the hotline operates 24 hours a day because often caregivers are faced with stressful situations in the middle of the night with their loved one and need guidance on how to navigate those situations outside traditional medical office hours.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest nonprofit dedicated to Alzheimer’s research and the number three funder of research behind the U.S. and Chinese governments. Since 1980, it has been the leading advocate for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. It is a member of the Combined Federal Campaign, designated 11234. Federal employees can donate to the Alzheimer’s Association through the 2020 CFC until the deadline Friday.

Each year the Alzheimer’s Association hosts the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in more than 600 communities across the country. The local event regularly brings more than 1,500 participants, according to Manning. She is recruiting volunteers to plan the 2021 walk.

“I want (the walk) to be a joyful experience,” Manning said, adding that the health and safety of constituents, staff and volunteers will be the top priority as they assess the changing status of the pandemic and make a decision on how the walk will be held.

While they were able to pivot successfully into a virtual platform, like other nonprofits, the association has seen a financial hit to their fundraising during the pandemic. Every dollar that is donated to the association is used for the organization’s three main tenets: research, care and support, and advocacy. Their local support groups are operating virtually and Manning said that if there is a silver lining, it is found in the fact that they have had an increase in participation. Due to the nature of the disease, caregivers are not able to often leave their patients and online support groups have opened up an easier way to join.

Another way that the organization is successfully navigating COVID-19 is through The Longest Day. On June 20, 2020, the longest day of the year, people across the world participated in a fundraising activity of their choice to benefit the association. Manning said they plan to continue the tradition this year on June 21, and new participants are welcome.

Even for people not currently affected by Alzheimer’s, the organization strives to educate on the science of the disease, but also ways to keep one’s brain healthy – and that often brain health is related to heart health. For Manning, a former teacher and youth minister, those teachable moments on a small scale are both personally rewarding but also essential to raising Alzheimer’s awareness.

“I love being able to go out and give people information about how to love your brain,” she said.

For more information, or ways to volunteer, contact Manning at jkmanning@alz.org or 880-1575.

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