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San Fernando Valley Residents Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s on Sunday, June 10 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jesse Estrada Special to the Sun   
Thursday, 07 June 2012 04:41

Longtime Advocate Pursues Cure Following Death Of His Wife

Alzheimer's Assn. California Southland Chapter president and CEO Susan Galeas, child actor Niko Baur and Herb Hirsh.

In June 2000, Calabasas resident Herb Hirsh received the devastating news that his wife, Kay, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, an incurable brain disorder that – over time – causes increasing memory loss and the decline of other brain functions, such as the ability to control movements, make decisions, and recognize family and friends. It was another cruel blow to Hirsh and his family. Kay's mother, Miriam, and her Aunt Dorothy, had also died of the disease.

According to research studies, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among the elderly, affecting about 18 million people worldwide. As the symptoms of dementia worsen, patients often must rely on caregivers to help them with basic day-to-day activities. Some of the most famous victims include former President Ronald Reagan, actors Charlton Heston and Charles Bronson, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and singer Perry Como.

You have a one in eight chance of getting Alzheimer's disease after age 65. For those families with a loved one with Alzheimer's, finding care and assistance can be very challenging both financially and emotionally. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

On Sunday, June 10, Hirsh and others seeking to eliminate the disease's tremendous health care toll are participating in "Walk To End Alzheimer's," an annual fundraiser held in more than 600 communities nationwide. The five-hour event, from 7 a.m. to noon, will be held in Woodley Park in Van Nuys.

Becoming An Advocate

After his wife's diagnosis, Hirsh committed himself to being an active and outspoken advocate for a cure, as well as Kay's caregiver. Kay passed away in 2011, but Hirsh's passion and commitment remain strong.

"When Kay first was diagnosed, it was tough," Hirsh said. "We did not know much about the disease, and just like everyone else, we came to the Alzheimer's Association for information and support."

Hirsh said he and his wife started learning about the disease and its effects by joining the Memory Club support group in Northridge.

"Later we came to know more people at the Association and got involved in different things," Hirsh said. "I had an interest in public policy, and I wanted to use that experience for the Association."

Hirsh has immersed himself in activities promoting legislative reform to improve care and increase funding for research.

He became active in the Alzheimer's Association in 2000. He also became a member of the Public Policy Committee, later serving as committee chairman.

Hirsh is currently a delegate to the California Council of the Alzheimer's Association, serving as council president in 2007 and 2008. And he is on the Board of Directors of the California Southland Chapter, which serves the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Hirsh travels to Sacramento annually to participate in the Alzheimer's Advocacy Day, and also to Washington, D.C., for the Alzheimer's Association's annual DC Forum and Action Summit.

Walking "The Walk"

Even with all he has done within public policy, and with the Alzheimer's Association, Hirsh was motivated to do more.

That's when he learned about "Walk To End Alzheimer's."

"I found out about the 'Walk to End Alzheimer's' – previously known as the 'Memory Walk' – which raises funds for Alzheimer care and research," Hirsh said.

In his first year, Hirsh was a leading fundraiser. "It really surprised me. [But] It showed me that a little effort could have surprising results," Hirsh continued.

Now he's urging others to join him on June 10, and help raise money for education, research and treatment.

"Now it's your chance to get involved," he said. "There is no such thing as a little effort, when every effort helps to find a cure. Even you can make a difference by joining the 'Walk to End Alzheimer's' this year. You might be the next top fundraiser!"

The participants are of all ages and backgrounds. Hirsh said walkers often enjoy the camaraderie of being with others who understand the challenges and rewards of care giving, and are dedicated to finding a cure for Alzheimer's and related dementias.

He said his team is for three people. "My wife Kay, her mother Miriam (Mimi), and her aunt, Dorothy. So 'Team Kay, Mimi and Dorothy' was born. There are several people in our family who were affected and there might be more someday, so we need to take action now."

After his first Walk, Hirsh was left wondering, "What do I do now?" He said actor David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier") was at the event and told him, "You've got to do better. Just try to raise more next year."

"David's advice was good, and that's part of my ongoing commitment to this cause," Hirsh said. "To raise more funds, communicate to more people, and continue to spread the word on why this is important to all of us."

This will be the second annual "Walk To End Alzheimer's" in Woodley Park, and will include a 5K walk route, musical entertainment by the talented duo Jusstuss, the hip-hop performers "Reggie & Sheila," team photos, awards, and a family festival with refreshments, a wellness expo and a KidZone.

Walkers who raise $100 or more receive a commemorative T-shirt, and there are prizes for top fundraising teams and individuals. Onsite registration opens at 7 a.m., opening ceremonies begin at 8:30 a.m., and the Walk begins at 9 a.m. Dogs are welcome, but must be people friendly and leashed.

The event will be hosted by ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor Leslie Sykes.

You can also learn more about the disease by contacting The Greater San Fernando Valley Office of the Alzheimer's Association office, located in Northridge, which offers programs and services in several languages to assist the people affected by dementia, as well as their families and caregivers.

Woodley Park is located at 6350 Woodley Ave., in Van Nuys. More than 1,000 participants from throughout Los Angeles County are expected to participate. The course is two miles, and will begin and end near a stage where food and festivities will take place and awards will be distributed. Besides the walk itself, there will also be a health and wellness festival, live entertainment, raffle prizes, and family activities for children.

A Los Angeles walk will be held on Nov. 4, in Century City. For more information about the Walk to End Alzheimer's, to register to walk or start a team, or to volunteer, call the Alzheimer's Association at (800) 272-3900, or visit the Web site, www.alz.org/socal.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 07 June 2012 20:57