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The 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer's in the Grand Strand was held at Grand Park by The Market Common on Saturday. Many of the marchers carried flowers to signify support for research, those they care for or have lost due to the disease and some carried flowers showing they have Alzheimer's. The event was in conjunction with more than 600 communities nationwide to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

It is hard to understand the impact that Alzheimer’s can have on a family until you experience it yourself.

My father was a great man — a Myrtle Beach city councilman, a leader in the church, and a beacon of the community. After his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, his health declined and his behavior worsened. It took a toll on my mother, who was caring for him. I remember making the difficult decision to move my father to a nursing home. I knew I had lost my father to Alzheimer’s, but I didn’t want to lose my mother at the same time.

Alzheimer’s can be hereditary, and the thought of what it would do to my family if I were to receive a diagnosis has been on my mind for many years. It was difficult to feel that there was nothing I could do to help myself or my family. After all, besides COVID-19, Alzheimer’s is the only Top 10 cause of death in the U.S. with no treatments and no cure.

A few years ago, my wife showed me an article in the newspaper about a clinical trial that was looking for volunteers with a family history of Alzheimer’s. I jumped at the chance and found myself at Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center in Charleston, and I have never looked back.

I volunteer in Alzheimer’s clinical trials because it gives me peace of mind. Alzheimer’s clinical trials are the only way to develop treatments and a cure for the disease, but 90% of clinical trials are delayed by slow recruitment. As a research volunteer, I know that I am contributing meaningfully to the end of this terrible disease.

I also know that I have an expert medical team personally monitoring my health, and that they haven’t found anything to be worried about yet. If I do develop Alzheimer’s, my family is already a part of the amazing community of people living with Alzheimer’s connected to Roper St. Francis, where they can find resources and support.

For my monthly clinical trial appointments, my wife and I make a day of it. We drive to Charleston from Myrtle Beach, goof off a bit in town, and then go to Roper St. Francis for my appointment. The doctors know us very well – it’s like a trip to visit friends.

Ever since I began volunteering, I have told my friends that not joining a clinical trial is a big mistake, especially if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering is more important than ever before.

Hundreds of clinical trials were paused across the country because of the pandemic, including my clinical trial at Roper St. Francis. In recent weeks, many research centers have begun to re-start their activities while practicing extreme cleaning and social distancing. Trials everywhere are moving more slowly than before the pandemic. To regain momentum toward finding a cure in our lifetimes, research centers need more volunteers.

I know how terrible it is to lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s. No one deserves to have this happen to them and to their family when they want to enjoy the best years of their lives and watch their grandchildren grow up – but someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds.

There is hope to end Alzheimer’s. It comes in the form of clinical trials and the people who volunteer to make clinical trials possible.

I have recently restarted my appointments at Roper St. Francis, and I am forever thankful to the staff there for the important work that they do and for my clinical trial experience.

As long as they have an open spot, they can count on me to volunteer.

Alzheimer’s clinical trials need all kinds of volunteers – healthy people like me who have a family history, people who are living with Alzheimer’s, and people who are starting to worry about their memory.

If you want to be a part of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, volunteer for a clinical trial. It is an amazing way to help yourself, the people you love, and future generations.

Wayne Vereen is a resident of Myrtle Beach and a clinical trial volunteer at Roper St. Francis Research and Innovation Center in Charleston. His father, Arthur Vereen, was a city councilman for Myrtle Beach from 1958-1961 and 1974-1977. In 2020, Wayne was nominated by Roper St. Francis for the Citizen Scientist Cornerstone Award. To learn more about Alzheimer's disease and joining a clinical trial, you can call Roper St. Francis at 843-724-2302 or visit www.rsfh.com/research.

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