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Taking On Alzheimer’s Disease: Summit by Summit

Alan Arnette - Alzheimer's Awareness
Alan Arnette - Mt. Everest - 2008
Well-known mountaineer Alan Arnette has laid out a challenge of epic proportions for himself in order to raise awareness and funds for a cause very close to his heart.

Arnette, 54, of Colorado, is planning to climb the 7 Summits—the highest peak on each of the continents—with the goal of raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease, the burden on caregivers and funding for research (www.climb4AD.com). He is dedicating this yearlong initiative to his mother and two aunts who died from Alzheimer’s and others who are caring for people with Alzheimer’s.

Arnette decided to retire early from his job as a technology executive to care for his mother during the last three years of her life. He cherishes the fact that he got to be near his mom during her final days, but like millions of other people caring for loved ones with the disease, he struggled to deal with the emotional, physical and financial tolls of this disease with no cure.

To see his mother, who had been a constant rock in his family, deteriorate to a point where she no longer recognized him was heartbreaking. “My mom never cried when I was growing up, but when it was evident that she could no longer live on her own and I had to help her pack her things, she started to cry and said, ‘I don’t want to leave my home,’” says Arnette. “It is impossible to explain, but I think she understood what was going on and that it was the right thing to do.”

Alzheimer’s disease has been estimated to affect more than 5 million people in the United States and the direct and indirect costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s is estimated to be more than $100 billion per year. Arnette hopes that by raising awareness and funds for research on Alzheimer’s, future generations will not have to struggle with the disease as his family has.

To Arnette, memories are everything. Currently there is neither a cure nor a treatment that addresses the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s, which gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities like bathing and eating.

Arnette sees some parallels between mountain climbing and what he and his mother went through. “The mental and physical demands of scaling seemingly insurmountable peaks are not unlike the everyday challenges faced by people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers,” said Arnette. “Both involve understanding personal limitations, reaching out for support and taking steps daily on a very long road.”

Alan Arnette - Alzheimer's AwarenessThe first peak Arnette will climb is the 16,067-foot (4897 meter) Mt. Vinson Massif in Antarctica. This two-week climb starting November 24 is challenging due to the extreme cold weather, arriving via a plane that lands on arctic ice and carrying 100 pounds of gear.

Supporting Arnette on The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything campaign, the Alzheimer's Immunotherapy Program of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy and Pfizer Inc. is funding Arnette’s climbs so that all money raised from donations will go directly to the Cure Alzheimer’s FundTM for research.

From A Caregiver’s Perspective

The burden of caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease often falls to loved ones like Arnette and his family. In the US, an estimated 10.9 million unpaid caregivers see to the daily needs of people stricken with Alzheimer’s. Last year, these caregivers provided about 12.5 billion hours of care. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming, and research shows that caregivers themselves often are at increased risk for depression and illness, especially if they do not receive adequate support from family, friends and the community.

You can join Arnette’s efforts to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research by going to Climb4AD.com where you can make a donation directly to support Alzheimer’s research. You can also learn more about Alzheimer’s and the campaign and follow Arnette’s high-altitude climbs.

Article courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Immunotherapy Program; photos courtesy of Alan Arnette.