Alzheimer's Disease runs in the family

Courtesy photo From left to right: Jeff Owsley, Becky Owsley, and Hallie Owsley. The Owsleys have been running to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

ALAMOSA — One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia, killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. By 2050, the number of Americans expected to live with Alzheimer's is projected to be nearly 13 million.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that slowly destroys crucial mental functions, such as memory or language. It typically begins with mild memory issues or difficulties finding the right word for something.

However, as it progresses, it becomes utterly debilitating; even swallowing or speaking is now a herculean feat. There are no known causes, but family history is one of the strongest predictors of its onset. Jeff Owsley knows the disease well as it runs on both sides of his family.

For Owsley, it became clear that it is a persistent issue within his family after a series of deaths on his father's side, all due to Alzheimer's. After bearing witness to several of his family members perish at the hands of Alzheimer's, he decided that it was time to start raising awareness and being an active role in Alzheimer's related activism.

Owsley started participating in fundraisers for the Alzheimer's Association (AA), beginning with running a marathon a decade ago, raising over $3,000. Most recently, he did a 31-mile challenge that raised over $2,000 for AA. This fundraising was of utmost importance after his mother was diagnosed with the disease.

Owsley initially became involved with the association after both his paternal uncles passed away from Alzheimer's. When he first decided to run a marathon to fundraise for this condition, his mother was there for him with complete support.

"My mom was my biggest supporter. She gave $500," he said.

It was agonizing for the family when she was diagnosed with the disease. Initially, his siblings were skeptical of it being Alzheimer's, thinking it was standard dementia. However, as her symptoms worsened, it became clear that it was.

"Over the past year, she's had difficulties with communication that has gone to the point where you can't understand just about anything that she says. What she tries to communicate, it comes out as babbling," he said.

As his mother's condition deteriorated, Owsley decided to participate in a 31-mile challenge with his mom which gave his dad, the full-time caregiver, a much-needed break.

There were times when they would try to go on a walk, and she would "Go up to every house and go into them-- just walk in" or be "Intent on picking up every piece of trash on the way." However, despite the babbling and uncooperative behavior, people were supportive, cheering or waving them on along the way.

He increased his fundraising goal for the 31-mile challenge from $200 to $2,000 in anticipation of an "outpouring of love" from the community. Doners have included an artist who was not in close contact with the family and people who no longer live in the San Luis Valley

Owsley’s parents have developed relationships across the country related to Alzheimer's.

"It's beautiful to me to think of how people someday won't have to deal with the pain of the disease, so, it's worth it to raise all those funds and keep on fighting," says Owsley.

Video News