Taking action against Alzheimer's

One man's energy turns a popular game into Alzheimer's research support

Thrivent member Wayne Backlund at Alzheimer's fundraising event

More than a decade ago, Wayne Backlund's wife, Susie, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, which strikes before the age of 65. "Insidious is the best word to describe [Alzheimer's]," the Florence, Wisconsin, Thrivent member says. The disease cut short Susie's teaching career, and it pushed Wayne into early retirement so he could provide Susie the around-the-clock care she soon needed.

Today, Susie, 66, lives in a care facility.

And Wayne maintains the fight – in this case, with paddles and plastic balls.

The Backlunds had taken up playing pickleball, a blend of tennis, badminton and ping pong – something of a paddle-sport smoothie – in the early years of Susie's illness. But more recently, Wayne saw the game as a creative way to rally support for Alzheimer's research.

In July 2018, he organized a Thrivent Action Team and brought together more than 50 participants in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to take part in a fundraising picnic and pickleball tournament. Participants took to the fight against Alzheimer's by squaring off in pairs across the net in spirited matches of pickleball.

"It was a really good event. We were able to make a healthy donation" to the Alzheimer's Association, says Wayne, who notes the event brought in nearly $2,800.

Alzheimer's awareness

Since World Alzheimer's Day was launched in 2012, public awareness about the frightening brain disease has expanded, and scientific pursuit of a cure has accelerated.

As Alzheimer's continues to operate without the opposition of a cure, action is essential.

Even so, as this year's World Alzheimer's Day approaches on Sept. 21, we are reminded of the breadth of the disease. The number of Americans living with Alzheimer's – more than 5.7 million – is expected to triple by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 More than 10% of people age 65 or older have Alzheimer's; nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's are women. Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association.2

As Alzheimer's continues to operate without the opposition of a cure, action is essential.

Serving notice to Alzheimer's

You certainly don't need to wield a racket to confront Alzheimer's. Here are some more ways to take action.

Seek out a study

Alzheimer's studies are plentiful, but subjects are sparse. According to the Banner Alzheimer's Institute (BAI), 80% of existing studies are delayed because there aren't enough participants. Healthy subjects and people with Alzheimer's are needed for the studies, to help make breakthroughs and formulate a cure. Start your search for a study at BAI's Alzheimer's Prevention Registry.

Take a walk

The Walk to End Alzheimer's, the world's largest fundraiser for Alzheimer's research, care and advocacy, is held in more than 600 communities nationwide in the days and weeks around World Alzheimer's Day, held in 2018 on Sept. 21. You can register for the Walk as a team captain, a team member or as a solo participant. Find the closest Walk and sign up today.

Attend to your own health

Abundant evidence shows a direct link between a healthy lifestyle and strong cognitive function. Reduce your Alzheimer's risk by staying physically, intellectually and socially active. Check out these brain health tips from the Alzheimer's Association.

Let Thrivent help you

Follow Wayne's lead and organize your own Thrivent Action Team event or project to join the fight against Alzheimer's. Apply to lead a Thrivent Action Team today. Need an idea? Here's a little Thrivent Action Team inspiration (PDF) to get you started.

Not a member yet? Learn more about why Thrivent is different.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm

2 Alzheimer’s Association, https://alz.org/alzheimer_s_dementia