By Nyesha Stone
Joe Johnson served in the U.S. Army for 23 ½ years and said his disabilities directly stem from his time spent serving for others. Johnson is 100 percent disabled and is suffering from memory loss (dementia). But, he said there’s no need to complain because he’s seen other veterans who suffer from worst.
He has a sleep disorder called narcolepsy, which makes it difficult for him to stay awake. Without the right medication, Johnson could fall asleep anywhere at any point in the day. He also has another sleeping disorder in which he needs to use a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to control his breathing. Without this machine, Johnson could choke in his sleep and die.
Johnson also associates his sleeping disorders as one of the causes of his memory loss. He has to leave notes, voicemails and other reminders for himself and takes pills to fight against the dementia.
Although dementia isn’t technically Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s honored Johnson at their 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s—Milwaukee County.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, Dementia is “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.”
This is the Alzheimer’s Association’s 25th year celebrating the Alzheimer’s Walk. Over 3,200 people were in attendance, according to a press release. The walk was held on Sept. 16 at Henry Maier Festival Park.
“I hope this experience is one that is meaningful,” said Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Southeastern Wisconsin chapter Dave Grams.
He said Alzheimer’s affects close to six million people across the country, and that the Alzheimer’s Association “is here and available to help all individuals who are impacted by the disease.” This includes those who have the disease, caregivers and family and friends who know someone with the disease.
The event was held at the Briggs & Stratton stage with the color purple standing out everywhere across the Summerfest grounds. Purple is the color of Alzheimer’s and people wore variations of purples to show their support for the cause.
Bagels, waters, information booths and an area to take pictures with characters and receive hand henna were offered throughout the event. A caregiver sanctuary was stationed near the stage. This station offered caregivers’ information, tea, hand massages and other stuff to show that they’re appreciated.
“Caregivers often don’t get time to relax, or [aren’t] recognized for what they do every day,” said volunteer of the walk and worker at the caregiver sanctuary Emily Kenton. “[It’s] a thankless job.”
Sigma Kappa at Marquette University was in attendance at the event as sponsors. This walk is one of many of the events Sigma Kappa works with, and every year they raise money for the walk.
“I love it [the event], and it’s such a beautiful day,” said Sigma Kappa member Ellie Knight. “I feel like I’m making a positive use with my time.”
Along with the purple balloons being handed out, four colors of flowers were given to attendees to represent why they came: blue, yellow, purple and orange. Blue for individuals who have Alzheimer’s or dementia; yellow for individuals supporting or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; purple for individuals who’ve lost someone to Alzheimer’s or dementia; and orange for someone who supports the cause.
The flowers are held high in the air at the opening ceremony’s Promise Garden. During this time, all flowers are individually called and presented by someone who fits into each colored category. Johnson was this year’s blue flower holder in the Promise Garden, meaning Johnson represented everyone who is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
As a Black man, Johnson encouraged the Black community to get tested if they see the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. To find out more visit https://www.alz.org/