OSU Alumni Association supports Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser in a civil war flag football game

An OSU student poses in a football helmet with a mock-up of an x-ray revealing the brain in order to relate the flag-football  game fundraiser held by the Alzheimer’s Association on June 3, to the effects Alzheimer’s disease has on the brain.

Katie Darke News Contributor

More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. The disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and deaths due to Alzheimer’s increased by 89 percent between 2000 and 2014. By 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s could rise as high as 16 million, according the Alzheimer’s Association.

Because of the large impact of Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer’s Association strives to raise awareness and funds for resources and research.

The Alzheimer’s Association Oregon Chapter held a flag football game in Portland on June 3, kicking off the organization’s Alzheimer’s Awareness month. During this month, the Alzheimer’s Association raises awareness in a variety of ways, including their “Go Purple” campaign in which participants can wear purple, change their Facebook profile and share their story to spread

awareness for Alzheimer’s.

The flag football game—centered on the age-old rivalry of Oregon State University and University of Oregon—is part of the Alzheimer’s Association’s RivALZ fundraising campaign, and also serves to raise awareness about the disease and the efforts of the Alzheimer’s Awareness organization.

According to the OSU team captain, Erica Knepper, networking and raising awareness are goals the OSU team strive toward so the fundraiser can continue to grow. Raising as much money as they can to support the cause is also an important and primary focus of the team.

“It’s just an added bonus if we win,” Knepper said.

The RivALZ fundraiser’s growth has been evident, according to Matt Gibson, a RivALZ organizer and staff head for the Alzheimer’s Association Oregon Chapter. RivALZ began in Washington, D.C. in 2005 and has since spread to more than 40 cities nationwide. The fundraiser held its second Portland game this year.

Support from the community is an important part of the fundraiser, according to Knepper. The OSU Alumni Association was the first of the two teams participating in the RivALZ game to show their support.

“It’s great to have that connection with the school,” Knepper said.

According to Suzanne Phillips, OSUAA regional network director and alumni diversity coordinator, the organization provides giveaways to the OSU RivALZ team, in addition to highlighting the opportunity to get involved

in regional newsletters.

“We feel it is important to support our alumni when they are representing OSU in their local communities or supporting causes where there is an OSU connection,” Phillips said. “Much like other rivalry opportunities hosted in the Portland metro area, we find that we can connect with alumni, students and families in ways we might not otherwise, and it helps to offer more diverse programming options for Beavers to connect

with fellow Beavers.”

 According to Gibson, the RivALZ fundraiser is growing, but still needs support to continue raising awareness and funds for the cure of Alzheimer’s. The campaign welcomes donations for an individual player or the event as a whole. Donations drive research dollars for better chances of finding a cure. However, if no cure is found, management of the disease is the costliest, and only, option.

“Our hope is that tapping into the long standing Duck vs. Beaver rivalry will tap into people’s competitive spirit,” Gibson said.

The teams in the flag football game are comprised of all women, a deliberate move made by the Alzheimer’s Association meant to highlight the ways in which Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects women over men, according to Knepper. 

Almost two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease also impacts caregivers significantly—a majority of which

are also women.

“It makes a prominent and profound statement by having women play a sport predominantly played by men,” Knepper said.

According to Casey Anderson, a player for the OSU team, the RivALZ fundraising campaign is not a gender exclusive event, however. Many men are also involved in coaching or

helping players fundraise.

The community of her all-women team, though, is a meaningful aspect of the fundraiser,

according to Anderson.

“It’s a fun bonding opportunity,” Anderson said. “I appreciate the value of women going through the same issues together and having that group for support and motivation.”

Anderson’s grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s when she was a baby. According to Anderson, the disease runs in her family and could even be a possibility for her mother.

“I would have liked to have known my grandpa,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, these personal reasons motivate her to take part in the RivALZ flag football game and fundraising campaign in order to spread awareness.

“People don’t realize how many older people are affected by this  disease,” Anderson said.

According to Gibson, another important aspect of raising awareness is erasing stigma.

“For years and years there have been successful public campaigns for things like AIDS, diabetes and cancer to end stigma and raise awareness,” Gibson said.

However, addressing Alzheimer’s can become complicated by stigma, according to Gibson.

“People thought for years and years that memory loss and confusion were normal parts of aging,” Gibson said. “They’re not. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease. It robs someone of who they are—their personality. It can be difficult to talk about in families because of the stigma.”

According to Gibson, one way to end this stigma is by getting younger communities involved.

“It can be difficult to engage young audiences with this disease because it seems like a disease that only affects older people,” Gibson said. “But these are our grandparents, our parents, and if we don’t find a cure, then it will be the

younger generation’s disease.”

In addition to letting more people know about the disease and erasing its stigmas, spreading awareness serves a large role in ensuring quality of life for

people with Alzheimer’s.

“It is important to bring awareness to the disease but also bring awareness to how you care for someone with Alzheimer’s,” Knepper said. “They can live a full life.”

According to Knepper, she is affected both professionally and personally by Alzheimer’s disease. Knepper works as the director of Nursing Services and In-Home Care Administrator for Rose Villa Senior Living in Portland, Ore.

“I enjoy meeting (those who have Alzheimer’s) where they are and helping them live out their lives to the fullest,” Knepper said.

In addition to working closely with residents with Alzheimer’s, Knepper experienced the care and deaths of two family members with Alzheimer’s—her grandmother and the grandfather of her children. According to Knepper, though her family was able to care for her grandmother at home, her children’s grandfather suffered from drastic personality changes, making care difficult and the situation a tough one to bear.

This fundraiser is a great way to inform the community about these issues of care,

according to Knepper.

“It brings a great deal of recognition to Alzheimer’s for all different types of people in the community,” Knepper said. “(It) lets more than just healthcare workers know about the issue.”

Whether motivated by personal reasons or the importance of the cause, there are many ways in which people can participate in the RivALZ campaign.

“(RivALZ) is an awesome opportunity for everyone to be involved in and we’re always looking for new players,” Anderson said.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers many other ways to get involved during Alzheimer’s Awareness month, including in “The Longest Day,” a fundraising event on June 21, 2017. Simple steps to spread awareness, such as sharing a Facebook post, are also available and can be found online at the Alzheimer’s Association website, along with resources for and information about Alzheimer’s disease.