Grand Rapids residents Dawn Hoiem and Evan Koch are on a mission to raise Alzheimer’s and dementia awareness in Michigan, even amid COVID-19.
Hoiem and Koch, both volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter and marketing co-chairs for Walk to End Alzheimer’s-Grand Rapids, which is set to take place Oct. 3, have produced multiple videos and other marketing and communications collateral for the Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s and public policy initiatives.
Among their many projects, Hoiem and Koch recently rolled out “Walk Talk,” a video series aimed at strengthening the Alzheimer’s community through inspiration and humor. The series provides information on how West Michigan residents can access support services and how to get involved with the local walk.
“For those going through a battle with Alzheimer’s right now, they should learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, because it’s a great source of information and support and you’ll need to be armed with a lot of both of those things in the days, weeks and months ahead,” Hoiem said. “‘Walk Talk can help with learning about some of those services and programs, as well as inspiring others to get involved.”
Hoiem’s commitment to the cause is personal. Her father, Bill Garner, passed away in 2014 of Alzheimer’s after being diagnosed eight years prior.
“I saw the physical toll it took on him, but also the toll it took on my mother as she cared for him,” Hoiem said. “While I was never my father’s direct caregiver, I always thought of myself as the caregiver’s caregiver, making sure mom took time out to take care of herself. Alzheimer’s is hard because the person you love is there physically, but they just slowly fade away. In many ways, Alzheimer’s takes your loved one away from you long before it physically takes them from this world.”
Hoiem said she is driven by the hope of a world without Alzheimer’s and all other forms of dementia for future generations.
“When a parent has Alzheimer’s it’s frightening on many levels,” she said. “One, it’s hard to lose them, but then you also realize you may have those genes working against you one of these days. I don’t necessarily expect there to be a cure in my lifetime or in time to potentially spare me, but I do believe there’s a real chance my sons can grow old in a world without Alzheimer’s.”
Koch is the owner and lead designer at Evan Koch Media Productions LLC, a video production and digital marketing agency in Grand Rapids. Though he doesn’t have a personal connection to the disease, he’s focused on using his skills to make a difference in the lives of Michigan residents through his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I know that when my time has come, I want to look back at my life and the world I live in and know that I’ve left it in a better place than where I found it,” Koch said. “And I feel so blessed that I’ve found this opportunity to make a difference in a way I know how.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In Michigan, 190,000 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and 518,000 residents are serving as unpaid caregivers. The figures are expected to rise by nearly 16% by 2025.
“It took me several years after my father died before I was ready to get involved,” Hoiem said. “When you live it day in and day out for so long, sometimes you need a little distance from it. As human beings, though, I think we gain strength from sharing our struggles with others and from being reminded that we aren’t in this alone. Volunteering helps us support each other and give a voice to those going through it.”