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Mary Sprout sits surrounded by just some of her 24 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. The Sprouts are this year's honorary family chosen to lead the Walk to End Alzheimer's going on Saturday in Colvill Park. (Photo courtesy Marcia Sprout)

Family at the heart of annual Alzheimer's walk

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The most important things in Mary Sprout's life are her faith, family and friends.

"That sums her up pretty well," daughter-in-law Marcia Sprout said. "She is very social, and loves to talk, visit and travel."

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A few years ago, family and friends started to notice something different about Mary Sprout, who had been living alone in Lake City since the death of her husband, Leland Sprout, in 1998.

It started out as little changes to her daily activities, Marcia Sprout said, but soon red flags started to go up. Then came the devastating diagnosis: Alzheimer's disease.

Mary Sprout, who now lives at the Deer Crest assisted living and memory care center in Red Wing, was selected to lead this year's Walk to End Alzheimer's going on Saturday at Colvill Park.

She will be joined by her "massive" family, Marcia Sprout said, including eight children, 24 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. "From 20 months old and up."

"She's excited about it," Marcia Sprout added. "She calls it a party."

Hosted by the Alzheimer's Association, Saturday's walk is intended to raise awareness and fund research for the fatal brain disease.

This will be the first time the Sprout family participates in the annual Alzheimer's walk in Red Wing, and Marcia Sprout said she hopes others can learn from their experience.

She said it is important to pick up on early warning signs and not to second guess symptoms. "You could be jeopardizing their safety."

Early onset symptoms include personality changes, difficulty completing familiar tasks, decreased judgment and withdrawal from social activities, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Although there is no cure for the disease, medication can relieve some symptoms and help individuals maintain their independence longer if caught early.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a group of disorders affecting memory and brain functions, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease causes brain cells to lose connections, degenerate and eventually die.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and that number could more than triple by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's often falls on family, and Marcia Sprout said anyone in that situation should not be afraid to ask for help.

There are a number of Alzheimer's and dementia support groups and care facilities in the Red Wing area, including Red Wing Area Seniors, St. Brigid's at Hi-Park and Deer Crest.

Marcia Sprout said the family tried to do home care for her mother-in-law during the first few months, but ultimately decided on Deer Crest when safety became a concern. Entrances and exits are secured at the center, a necessity for patients who have a tendency to wander, she said.

The loss of independence was difficult at first for Mary Sprout, but she has since settled in and her personality remains bright, the family said.

The Sprouts are part of the Deer Crest Cruisers, one of around a dozen organized teams participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer's in Red Wing. Donors have contributed close to $10,000 for the Alzheimer's Association.

Registration for the walk begins 9 a.m. Saturday at Colvill Park, followed by an opening ceremony 10 a.m. Participants can choose either a one- or two-mile walk beginning 10:15 a.m.

For more information, contact Debbie Eddy at 507-289-3950.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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