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Michelle La France ’14  with her father, Richard.

UPDATE: More than 100 people participated in the walk, raising more than $4,300.

Senior organizes ‘Walk to Remember’ to benefit Alzheimer’s research

Michelle La France ’14 (Bristol, Conn.) has dedicated herself to raising money and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease because of her family’s experience with the devastating symptoms of dementia.

La France is organizing Providence College’s first Alzheimer’s memory walk, a fundraiser which will take place Saturday, November 9, in honor of her father.

La France, a health policy and management major, created “A Walk to Remember” as her project in an independent study with Dr. Robert B. Hackey, professor of health policy and management.

Hackey initially suggested an on-campus fundraiser as a small scale, hands-on project to complement La France’s reading and writing assignments in the course, but she quickly expanded its scope. For example, she worked “tirelessly” to promote the event through local media such as GoLocalProv.com and the Rhode Island Catholic, he said.  

“Organizing the Walk to Remember has been a transformative experience for her,” Hackey said. “She’s not only found her voice as a policy advocate, but she’s developed impressive project management and event planning skills in the process.”

Funds raised by A Walk to Remember will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Rhode Island, an organization dedicated to eliminating Alzheimer’s by advancing research and improving care for those already affected.

La France’s motivation to organize the memory walk is certainly personal. Her father, Richard La France, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which shares many of the same cognitive and physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s, often used interchangeably, are very different. Dementia, La France explained, is more an umbrella term of symptoms which are hard to diagnose, while Alzheimer’s, a specific cause of dementia, is a disease that targets parts of the brain.

“My dad was only diagnosed with Lewy body dementia recently, but he had been battling for two years and struggling undiagnosed for a long time,” La France said.

In addition to problems with memory and problem solving, Lewy body dementia has Parkinson-like symptoms and causes changes in behavior. The disorder affects patients cognitively, physically, and behaviorally, making life confusing and frustrating for both patients and caregivers.

La France, who interned at the Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut last summer, is hosting the Alzheimer’s walk to increase the public’s understanding of the challenge of identifying symptoms of dementia.

“It’s been a struggle watching everything my dad had to suffer through,” she said. “I want to raise awareness about the disease and how hard it is to diagnose, and hopefully improve what they are doing to help people like him.”

A Walk to Remember will start at 10:00 a.m. at PC’s new track and turf field complex at Hendricken Field. The walk is a 5K event open to runners and walkers. Registration for the event, which will have music, food, and guest speakers, is free, but donations are welcome. Participants who donate $50 will receive a T-shirt, and those who donate more than $100 will be entered to win prizes.

Participants can register for the event online at https://alzwalkpc.eventbrite.com/?ref=estw, or they can register the day of the event starting at 9:30 a.m.

In addition to organizing A Walk to Remember, La France will be a guest speaker at the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter’s “Reason to Hope” fundraising luncheon where she will talk about her story as a caregiver for her father. This event is set for April 3, 2014, at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I.

To participate in other ways as a sponsor or volunteer, or to learn more about the disease, contact La France at alzwalkpc@gmail.com.

— Nick Tavares ’16

 

 
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