As a kid, Katherine Barefoot spent time in the summer visiting her grandmother on the coast of North Carolina, and on every visit, the two would walk to a river about a block away from her New Bern home.
One visit, her grandmother, Jane Constantine, could not remember how to get to the water. It was the first sign of difficulty Katherine remembers.
The thought of her grandmother losing her memory used to bother Katherine, said Anne Barefoot, Katherine’s mother. But to Katherine, she is still grandma. “You can’t change what is, just how you deal with it,” Katherine said.
Now a junior at Queens Grant High School in Mint Hill, Katherine recently collected $1,280 for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. That put her in the top 15 donors at the Charlotte walk, and she was the No.1 contributor on her team. Because she raised more than $500, she is now a part of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Champions Club.
She wanted to get involved to aid people like her grandmother who struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, she said. In the United States, Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death and more than 5.3 million Americans live with the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association – and about 11 million others serve as caretakers to those with the disease. By 2050, about 16 million are expected to have the disease.
“It’s an orphan disease and there’s no cure,” Katherine said. “So why not help?”
Katherine spent weeks walking door-to-door collecting pocket change, and emailing friends and family asking for donations. “It doesn’t matter how much you donate, just that you donate,” she said.
She and an estimated 2,500 others convened Sept. 15 at Symphony Park at SouthPark for the 2012 Walk. The event is held annually in more than 600 communities across the nation.
This year marks Katherine’s first year participating in the walk. But she spends time each week volunteering at Emeritus at SouthPark, a dementia and memory care community where her grandmother now lives.
Her grandmother moved to the 56-resident complex in 2007 after being diagnosed with the disease. Tracy McGinnis, spokeswoman for Emeritus at SouthPark, said the community relies on volunteers like Katherine to lift the spirits of residents. McGinnis said Katherine spends time doing crafts, playing games, exercising and chatting with residents.
Katherine advises families that are struggling to cope with loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to continue to be positive.
“My grandmother always took care of me. Now it’s my turn to take care of her,” she said.