WATERVILLE — When Freddie Pullen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his license eventually was taken away, he still showed up at his business, Freddie’s Garage, every day and sat in his chair.

“He didn’t understand why he couldn’t work,” said Liz Pullen, his adult granddaughter. Pullen had owned the Vassalboro garage for over 50 years. “It was the hardest thing to see because you couldn’t help.”

Pullen later forgot how to eat, chew and swallow and could not use the bathroom alone. He and his wife, Bev, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s, unknowingly would leave their gas stove on. Brittanee Guerette, another granddaughter, said the situation grew scary. The whole family rallied to take care of the aging pair.

“I always thought of it like going back to when you were a child,” Liz Pullen said.

Bev Pullen died in October 2014, and Freddie Pullen followed in November 2015. On Saturday, nine of the couple’s relatives — including great-grandchildren — walked in their honor as part of the Kennebec Valley Area Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The event, which has taken place in either Waterville or Augusta for 25 years, aims to raise awareness about the disease, which affects 28,000 Mainers today and over 5 million people nationwide, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This year, the director of communications for Maine’s chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Drew Wyman, said nearly 300 people showed up at the Head of Falls to participate.

Liz Pullen, who has walked with the Proud Pullens team at the fundraiser for three years, said that seeing people who have been affected by Alzheimer’s gather in an uplifting setting is powerful. Participants are given color-coded flower windmills to march with. Blue indicates that the wearer has Alzheimer’s or dementia, yellow represents caretakers, purple symbolizes having lost someone to the disease, and orange shows general support for finding a cure. Together, everyone walks a 3.5-mile (or 1-mile) route around the city.

“It’s definitely worth coming and seeing who’s here and seeing who else is going through what you’ve gone through,” Liz Pullen said.

Mary White, a daughter of Freddie and Bev Pullen, started attending the annual event nearly 24 years ago, when she was a caretaker for elderly people at the Cedar Ridge Center in Skowhegan. For her, the day took on added meaning after her father’s death.

“Unless you’ve gone through it, you have no idea what it’s about — the toll it takes on the family, emotionally and everything,” White’s sister-in-law Tammy Pullen added.

While the event provides a supportive space for people affected by the disease, it also serves as a reminder of the importance of contributing money to help fight Alzheimer’s. Wyman said that before Saturday, the Maine chapter had raised about $50,000 of its $80,000 goal for the calendar year. The amount earned on the day of the walk had not been calculated by press time.

“We’re really appreciative of everyone fundraising and participating and getting involved,” Wyman said.

Wyman noted that the family-oriented nature of Saturday’s event was important to him.

“A lot of people don’t realize how (Alzheimer’s) affects kids,” he said. “They know it affects older people, but it’s really the whole family. I say that from personal experience.” Wyman helped take care of his grandmother who had dementia when he was a young teen.

The walk was led by Jamison Connolly, a local Cub Scout, who held a white flower windmill symbolizing hope for a cure.

Walks to End Alzheimer’s take place in towns and cities across the country and are the world’s largest events held to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association uses funds to promote research, educate the public about brain health, do advocacy work and support individuals with dementia.

Similar walks are scheduled for Oct. 20 in Brunswick and Bangor.

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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