Health & Medicine

Lexington ceremony part of nationwide effort to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease

Mildred Bailey, left, and Sandra "Cissy" Williams lit their candles during the National Commemorative Candle Lighting Service for Alzheimer's disease victims and caregivers held at Pilgrim Baptist Church Sunday.
Mildred Bailey, left, and Sandra "Cissy" Williams lit their candles during the National Commemorative Candle Lighting Service for Alzheimer's disease victims and caregivers held at Pilgrim Baptist Church Sunday. Herald-Leader

In a downtown Lexington church on Sunday, Mildred Bailey, 72, spoke of her mother's struggles with Alzheimer's disease, which took her life 10 years ago.

Bailey recalled how her mother once prayed every night for her nine children by name, with specific requests for each, but in her later years she couldn't remember their names.

Bailey, the third-oldest child of Annie Gillis Musgrow, was the keynote speaker Sunday at a candle-lighting ceremony to honor and remember those affected by Alzheimer's. It was held at Pilgrim Baptist Church on Jefferson Street.

Such ceremonies, sponsored by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, were held across the country over the weekend, said Dr. Deborah Danner, director of education and outreach for the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

About 80,000 Kentuckians have Alzheimer's, said Danner. About 240,000 others are caregivers for those with the disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. As many as 16 million people in the United States will have the disease by 2050.

There is no cure for the Alzheimer's, which worsens as it progresses and eventually leads to death.

While it is diagnosed most often in people older than 65, Danner said, she has seen it in people who are 30.

It affects about one of every two people 85 or older, she added.

Sarah Smith, a junior majoring in pre-med at UK who works for Danner, was the moderator for Sunday's ceremony. Her father, Gerald L. Smith, is pastor of the church.

She said her grandmother, who is in a nursing home, has a form of dementia.

"It is helpful to have a ceremony like this for people to know they are not alone," Sarah Smith said.

Sandra "Cissy" Williams said she could appreciate that. She said she lives with her 94-year-old mother who does not have Alzheimer's but "sometimes asks the same things over and over."

During the ceremony, Williams sang You'll Never Walk Alone.

After she finished, the Rev. Terry R. Cunningham II of Duncan Chapel United Methodist Church read the names of 15 people who have been affected by Alzheimer's.

The crowd of about 25 lit candles and observed a moment of silence. Then the Rev. Gerald Smith closed the ceremony with a prayer requesting a cure for the disease.

Afterward, Bailey said she did not fear contracting Alzheimer's.

"I'm not saying it won't ever happen to me," she said. "It might. I don't know, don't think much about that. I'm just saying it doesn't scare me. If I get it, I know, I know, I know I will be reunited with my mother."

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