Michelle Tucker and her family made their way to the starting line at Hollywood North Beach Park for the Broward Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Tucker’s daughter Montana, 22, flew in from Los Angeles just to participate, and her father, Michael Schmidmayer, 93, completed the three-mile route in a wheelchair. Her mother, 86-year-old Lilly Schmidmayer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago, was determined to complete the walk on her own.
When she did, she raised her hands in the air and called out, “I did it!”
The family wasn’t surprised by her resolve, however. Both Michael and Lilly Schmidmayer of Coral Springs are Holocaust survivors.
“My mother survived the Holocaust as a child,” said Tucker, 56, of Boca Raton. “She was 13 when she was taken to Auschwitz, and now she’s determined to survive with Alzheimer’s, too.”
The Broward Walk to End Alzheimer’s, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association’s southeast Florida chapter, drew about 2,000 walkers and raised more than $240,000.
More than 150,000 people have Alzheimer’s in southeast Florida, and the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. Ann May, CEO of the association’s southeast Florida chapter, said this event is their biggest opportunity to let the community know what help is available, from advocacy programs to the 24-7 helpline.
“We want people in Broward and in southeast Florida to know we are here and to know about our resources,” May said. “The Walk to End Alzheimer’s helps us reach the community, as well as helps us raise funds for research and programs.”
Tucker agreed. “We walked because we want to be a part of the push toward a cure,” she said. “I want to help get the word out that Alzheimer’s sufferers are still alive and still need quality of life.”
Tucker cares for her parents daily, arriving each weekday at 7:30 a.m., and making sure her mother takes all of her medications, vitamins and supplements. She believes in the medicinal properties of certain herbs for brain health, such as turmeric and cinnamon, and is a proponent of Sudoku and other word puzzles to help keep her mother’s brain sharp.
“My mother was diagnosed six years ago, and she still — thank God — knows everyone,” she said. “As Holocaust survivors, I don’t want them to suffer another day in their life.”
Tucker credits Broward’s strong walk turnout to community involvement and getting the word out. “More people are getting involved, and we’re getting more attention,” she said. “People are realizing this can happen to you, too, or to your loved one. These are not isolated incidents. We’re living longer, and as a result, Alzheimer’s is taking a lot of people.”
May agreed that as baby boomers age, the number of people with the disease will rise from 5 million Americans to as many as 16 million by 2050.
“This cause needs champions,” she said, “and we are here to be a resource and to be those champions.”