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Merced Walk to End Alzheimer’s draws hundreds of people Saturday

UC Merced sophomore Kumaran Akilan shared his story Saturday of how his grandfather’s brother was impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease and how his grandfather is showing symptoms.

Rep. Jim Costa spoke about how his mother battled Alzheimer’s Disease.

Others raised flowers during a ceremony with the different colors signifying how the disease has impacted their lives.

Over 300 people participated in the sixth annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s event at Applegate Park on Saturday morning. The event, which is put on by the Alzheimer’s Association, raised $48,000 toward its goal of $60,000.

Over the years, the event has raised over $500,000, according to Cheryl Schrock, who manages the event in Merced.

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Over 300 people participated in the sixth annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s event which was held at Applegate Park in Merced, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

“It’s a small but powerful group here in Merced,” Schrock said. “The people who do take part in the event are really passionate. Alzheimer’s is the second leading cause of death in the state.”

Schrock said the annual event is a fundraiser, but it also serves as a way to help educate people and bring awareness to the disease.

“It is a fundraiser. We want to raise money,” Schrock said. “But it doesn’t cost anything to participate. It’s a community event. Our mission is to help people learn what we do. Education is a huge component of the event.”

Akilan shared with the crowd what he’s doing to help make it easier for people to be correctly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease earlier and making the diagnostic process more affordable.

Akilan, 19, who came to UC Merced from Cuptertino, is working on a computer-version algorithm that extracts the retinal vessel system and can find abnormalities that may help uncover the presence of Alzheimer’s.

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UC Merced sophomore Kumaran Akilan speaks during the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event at Applegate Park on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

According to Akilan, it would drop the costs of diagnosing the disease from the thousands of dollars it costs to use spinal taps, brain scans and other current methods to $40 or $50.

“What I want to do is have a biological marker test that is cheap enough to be reimbursable by Medicare,” Akilan said. “So Medicare will pay for it completely. We’ve developed a retinal scan that uses a retinal fundus image and looks at abnormalities that it can quantify that indicates the presence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Using an artificial intelligence algorithm, we’re able to make the Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis. So what we hope it will do is lower the cost of diagnosis, while providing better accuracy than the current diagnostic standard.”

Akilan’s work has attracted the attention of investors and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Akilan was recently appointed to Governor Newsom and Maria Shriver’s Alzheimer’s Preparedness and Prevention Task Force.

“Merced look at this amazing kid at UC Merced who is part of your community,” Schrock said. “Look what he is doing, working on early detection and making it cost effective. This is huge and Merced should be proud.”

According to the CDC, one in nine people 45 years or older in California are experiencing Subjective Cognitive Decline.

The CDC on their website defines Subjective Cognitive Decline as the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss. It’s one of the earliest noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias

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The crowd holds up different color flowers during a ceremony prior to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Applegate Park on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Merced, Calif. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

“A lot of Mercedians are impacted by Alzheimer’s,” said Merced Mayor Mike Murphy, who’s family has been impacted by the disease. “It’s not just those who are diagnosed, but it’s also their family, friends and support network who are affected.”

Everyone who registered for the event was given a flower. The color of the flower signifies where each person is in their Alzheimer’s journey.

An orange flower signifies you are concerned with the costs of the disease. The estimated cost for Medicaid for caring with people with Alzheimer’s in California in 2019 is $3.925 billion according to Alzheimer’s Association.

The yellow flowers were carried by caretakers or family members of someone with Alzheimer’s. Those carrying purple flowers are people who lost someone to the disease. The blue flowers signify you have the disease.

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The crowd holds up their different colored flowers during a ceremony at the sixth annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Applegate Park in Merced on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Costa shared his experience of watching his mother suffer from the disease.

“As strong as she always was to all of us, she looked at my sister and I and said, ‘You know what, I’ll just do the best I can,” he said. “That’s a story that each and every one of you all understand because you all share it in one fashion or another and that’s why we’re here this morning. We’re here to walk on behalf of Alzheimer’s because it’s personal and we want to make a difference.”

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