Rhonda Steenbruggen of Norton will be joining the movement to end Alzheimer’s disease by taking part in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Walpole on Sept. 22.
Steenbruggen is no stranger to Alzheimer’s disease; her mother has been living with it for close to a decade now, and she lost her son to the disease. When her son Dustin returned home from Los Angeles in 2007, Steenbruggen became his primary caregiver until he died in January. Steenbruggen will participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the second year to honor her mother and her son.
“I hate this disease”, said Steenbruggen, “Dustin had always told me that when I was old, I shouldn’t worry, that he would take care of me. Then he was gone, my amazing son of 39 years gone from younger-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Early-onset Alzheimer's is detected in people younger than 65. Though uncommon, it can run in the family. In Dustin's case, however, doctors did not know to test for it.
"There are no instruction manuals on how to deal with this," she said.
Steenbruggen and her son participated in an Alzheimer's walk on behalf of Dustin's grandmother in 2010. At the time, Dustin just received the diagnosis but was not capable of understanding what was wrong with him.
"He didn't know he was walking for himself, too," Steenbruggen said.
Dustin's brain was donated to Brigham and Women's DIAN study which will research genetic forms of Alzheimer’s disease.
“There has never been a greater need to join in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by participating in Walk to End Alzheimer’s,” said James Wessler, president/CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. “We are truly grateful to Rhonda and all of those participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for their commitment.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a growing epidemic and is now the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death. As baby boomers age, the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease will rapidly escalate, increasing well beyond today’s estimated 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. The disease has a significant impact on family members, with nearly 15 million providing care to a loved one, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Anyone can contribute to Steenbruggen and her team, “Dustin,” at www.alzwalkMANH.org or learn more about participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.