Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event that raises critical awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
Last year, a group of 920 enthusiastic North Shore residents marched along Gallery Park in the hope of finding a cure. One of those residents was Karen Weiss, whose family has been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.
Weiss sat down with the Alzheimer’s Association and shared her story on why Walk to End Alzheimer’s holds dear to her heart.
“He was a comedian, a hard-worker and dedicated,” Weiss says. “He was someone I looked up to — he was my father.”
A Highland Park native, Weiss fondly remembers growing up with her devoted father, who served not only as a role model for his own children, but also for his grandkids.
“My dad always showed my children unconditional love and support,” Weiss says. “He brought them places, played games with them — he was impeccably caring. I watched him take care of his parents as they both simultaneously were suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
“When your family goes through Alzheimer’s once, it’s seems impossible the feeling of heartbreak could appear again,” Weiss says.
While her father provided a compelling and inspiring influence for Weiss and her children, the same feeling of devastation took a hold Weiss’ family once again. Weiss’ father’s behavior began to gradually shift and her father’s precious memories seemed to be slipping away.
In 2012, Weiss’ father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease is more than just memory loss,” Weiss says. “We didn’t recognize the man he became. The once strong, independent, funny man I knew became a stranger to us. We never knew how he was going to act. It varied every day.”
At the center of this heartbreaking disease was Weiss’ mother, whose life was overturned by the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“She devoted all her time and energy to my dad. The stress and pain became overwhelming,” Weiss says. “My siblings and I eventually took over the caregiver duties. However, his health began to decline so rapidly we had to move him into a long-term care facility.”
Weiss watched as her father lost his ability to think, function, and take care of himself and eventually lose his battle. In 2014, Weiss’ beloved father passed away.
“It was heartbreaking watching my father decline,” Weiss says. “I was upset, I was angry — I felt every emotional possible, but I was also motivated.
“I wanted to share my story and have my dad’s voice be heard.”
Since then, Weiss has been committed to finding a cure, and in 2015, she found the North Shore Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She walked with her cousins, who also lost their mother to Alzheimer’s, as “Team Cousins.”
“I felt like I found my home when I went to walk,” Weiss says. “The amount of support and comfort is indescribable.”
“Everyone is there fighting for the same cause. Before going to walk, I thought I was the only one going through this emotional rollercoaster ride. Alzheimer’s disease has this overwhelming effect of making you feel alone, but at walk I know I am not alone. I walk with my friends, family, siblings, neighbors — all who have been affected by this heartbreaking disease — they have become my support group.”
This year, Weiss will also be serving as the North Shore Walk’s co-committee chair where she plans to continue to raise critical funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.
While “Team Cousins” initial plan is to honor their loved ones, a deeper meaning still drives the family closer together. “We do this to honor all those who have lost their battle to this disease,” Weiss says. “Our bond as a family got stronger and we are committed to finding a cure. My father’s treasured memories faded, but I will continue to fight so future generations can hold onto theirs and witness a world without Alzheimer’s.”