MARQUETTE - First it was longtime country music star Glen Campbell. Then it was legendary college basketball coach Pat Summitt.
Alzheimer's disease has been making the national headlines lately.
Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior that has no cure and afflicts millions of Americans.
Ruth Almen, Alzheimer’s association regional director, speaks to more than 200 people prior to the start of a past Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk at the Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming. (Journal file photo)
Locally, Alzheimer's has been in the spotlight as well, with Upper Peninsula filmmaker Lisa Cerasoli gaining attention for her documentary about her grandmother's battle with the disease - including being interviewed on national television - and local native Jeff Jennings walking from Marquette to Norway to raise funds and awareness about the disease.
"I think people who talk about their diagnosis, especially beginning early on, provide an invaluable service to others," said Ruth Almen, regional director of the Upper Peninsula Region of the Alzheimer's Association. "They are letting others know they are still the people they have always been and that there's nothing to be embarrassed about in the diagnosis."
Campbell's announcement he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's came about six months ago. The country star, now 75, has released what he said is his final album in a long career. He's touring the country in support of the disc, "Ghost on the Canvas," with a band that includes four of his children.
The winningest coach in women's college basketball history, Summitt has been coaching at the University of Tennessee for 37 years. She made the announcement of her diagnosis on Aug. 23.
"I plan to continue to be your coach," she said in a statement released by the university. "Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days."
Summitt's diagnosis was a shocking revelation to many, especially because she's just 59 years old.
"Summitt's announcement knocked me off my feet," Almen said. "I had always been a college basketball fan, but wasn't really a Summitt fan before. Now I have become her biggest fan. She's not crawling in a hole, she's pushing herself to do her very best.
"She will be the kind of spokeswoman for Alzheimer's that Magic Johnson was for HIV when he first revealed he had been diagnosed," Almen said. "Pat Summitt can potentially help the whole nation."
While Alzheimer's affects millions, it's still very much a mystery disease, Almen said.
"It's one of the top 10 diseases in the nation, but we don't even know yet how it starts. This new focus will help. Alzheimer's needs attention."
Locally, Cerasoli has been making an impact with her book, "As Nora Jo Fades Away" and her documentary "14 Days with Alzheimer's." Both are culled from her experience as caregiver for her grandmother, Nora Jo. Last week, Cerasoli was interviewed on the "Dr. Drew Show" on the HLN Network via Skype about Summitt's revelation.
As for Jennings, he received $1,000 in pledges to support the U.P. Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association with his recent walk across a good portion of the peninsula.
"(Cerasoli and Jennings) are important folks to us," Almen said. "We're reaching out to people just diagnosed with the disease and that's new for us in the U.P. While the caregivers stories are important, we want to also focus on the people who have the disease and what's happening with them.
"We are reaching out to people in the early stages of the disease, to look at what they need and what their families need."
Which in turn makes the need for funds in the fight against Alzheimer's even more crucial, something Negaunee native Jennings has learned.
"The 100-mile walk that I completed during the week of July 25 was to raise money and awareness for the fight against Alzheimer's," Jennings said. "The support I received was overwhelming and I am forever grateful. My personal goal has been met, but we have work to do. ... I hope to see you on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 24 at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. We can beat this."
The walk Jennings refers to is the annual Walk to End Alzheimer's. It brings out scores of people to raise funds to support the fight against the disease.
For more information, visit the local chapter's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/UP-Region-of-the-Alzheimers-Association/357852212263?sk=wall or its website, www.alz.org/gmc.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.