Phoenix-area man who lost his dad to Alzheimer’s staying in the fight to find a cure
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona has one of the fastest-growing rates for Alzheimer’s disease in the country. And Phoenix-area families are coming together this weekend to raise awareness in the push to find treatment and a cure. We caught up with a young man here in the Valley who is on a mission to fight the misperception that this is “just an old person’s disease.”
Brandon Barkwell was only 13 when he first stepped into advocacy with the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, fighting for his dad. “I was 4 when he got diagnosed with early- onset Alzheimer’s,” Barkwell said. It’s all he knew growing up. His father, Brian Barkwell, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 50s. “He lived with it a lot longer than some people do, so watching him struggle with it and slowly decline was pretty difficult,” Brandon said.
Seen as a disease that attacks people as they age, Brandon figured out early on Alzheimer’s is just as unforgiving on young kids like him and their families. “And I remember one point towards the end, he struggled to even remember some of our family members’ names. It just got progressively worse from there,” he said. It went from simple instances of forgetfulness to his father’s loss of independence and eventual transition into assisted living.
Brandon channeled that frustration into action, going to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers about funding research. He started a student group at his high school, getting kids to join him for the annual fundraising walk. “It was another way to bring in young people that this isn’t a disease that’s just related to older people,” Brandon said.
“We are so close! We are having breakthroughs right now,” said Kate Dolance, the chair for this year’s Phoenix Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She’s encouraged by recent clinical trial successes for patients like her own father, who’s 84 and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “We’re getting that much closer to getting a cure for this disease.” Dolance said.
Brandon and his mom only have photographs and memories now. His dad died seven years ago. They’re staying in the fight because of him for better outcomes for other families. It’s a disease of the brain that has a lasting impact on our hearts. “I know he would want me to continue fighting for a bigger picture of helping bring awareness,” Barkwell said.
Sometimes you can feel alone in the fight. Perhaps that’s why there’s always an amazing turnout for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. At last check, there were more than 3,000 registered this weekend. You can sign up online now here, or show up in person registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Wesley Bolin Plaza in downtown Phoenix. Here’s a link to Brandon’s team ‘Barkys Hope’ if you’d like to join his fight.
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