SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — At the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s Celebration Party, Casey Baker is filled with mixed emotions. His demeanor shifts from tooth-wide smiles to sullen-eyed facial expressions.
In November 2018, Baker’s mother, Rita O’Connor Baker, died of Alzheimer’s disease at age 70. Since then, Baker channeled his grief in campaigning for further resources and research and raised over $4,700 in this year’s 2019 Walk to
End Alzheimer’s Disease, becoming the top fundraiser.
“This is why I raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association,” said Baker. “I want some answers, more science, more resources, more research. I think it’s time that we got some of these answers, if not a cure.”
Currently, 400,000 New Yorkers are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 1 million family and friends are providing care, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Worldwide, 50 million people are living with the disease and other dementias.
Rita Baker was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease when she was 55-years-old. Up to five percent of the more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s have younger onset, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. At first, Baker’s family dismissed her early symptoms as normal moments of distractedness. Over time, the problem grew more noticeable.
“She got lost in a parking lot,” said Casey Baker. “That was one of the big things that happened that kind of hit home for everyone. It was a parking lot she’d been to a thousand times and she didn’t know how to get home.”
Not before long, Rita Baker not only developed problems with memory, but also challenges in performing basic tasks.
“She got to the point where, after the fifth year, she really had no quality of life,” said Casey Baker. “She would breathe, she would chew, and she would swallow, and that kept her alive for 10 years.”
Though Baker and his family worked to make Rita Baker’s life as comfortable as possible, his contributions to the Alzheimer’s community didn’t stop with his mother.
“Once you get involved with something like that, it’s hard to walk away from,” said Baker. “It’s for such a good cause that the little bit that I’m able to do, if I’m able to prevent someone else pain, then why wouldn’t I do that type of a thing.”
Cathy James, the executive director of Central New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the walk has turned into a family tradition.
“We have families that come back year over year. They’re bringing the next generations, so we’re not only seeing the moms and dads but we’re also seeing the kids and the grandkids,” said James.
Alzheimer’s Disease is so popular that it’s difficult to meet someone who doesn’t have any sort of link to the Alzheimer’s community, said James.
“It’s a death sentence; there’s no cure, there’s no hope,” said Baker. “It’s difficult to watch your loved one deteriorate in front of your eyes.”