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SALT LAKE CITY — Kathryn Romney and her husband, Leonard, love working together, whether they're in their kitchen making dinner or out in the world helping others.
About 18 months ago, Leonard noticed that Kathryn was having trouble thinking through ordinary tasks.
"When the doctor comes out and says, 'Yes, you do have Alzheimer's disease, Kathryn,' ... I don't know anybody who could soften that blow," she said.
But Kathryn quickly rose above the shock and became a champion of fellow "recipients," as she calls them.
And rose is the key word.
Kathryn Romney will kick off 2011 aboard the 55-foot-long, train-themed "Boomer Express" float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
With as many as 10 million baby boomers at risk for developing Alzheimer's, the Alzheimer's Association and Pfizer are collaborating to help raise awareness of the disease by telling all Americans, "It's time to face Alzheimer's."
"I have a cause, a cause about which I'm passionate," she said, "and that is the extermination of Alzheimer's disease. ... I'm willing to stand up for anybody if I have a chance."
The Boomer Express will ring its bell every 70 seconds to represent how frequently someone in America develops Alzheimer's. Kathryn Romney will be joined on the float by other individuals living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.
"Alzheimer's is a looming crisis that today affects as many as 32,000 here in Utah and more than 5 million Americans across the country," said Jack Jenks, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association Utah Chapter. "With the first wave of baby boomers beginning to turn 65 next year, the numbers of people affected will only continue to escalate."
As an early stage Alzheimer's patient, Kathryn Romney views her disease as an opportunity to speak out and seek to eliminate the stigma that comes along with a diagnosis. She serves as a member of the national Alzheimer's Association Early-Stage Advisory Group.
"Our effort is to try to get people to be open about the disease, to seek help, to enjoy life as much as they can in the time that they have left and help in the cause to defeat the disease," Leonard Romney said. "It can be done."
Jenks said he believes the Romneys are helping erase the stigma surrounding Alzheimer's.
"The Romneys are my personal heroes," he said.
The 122nd Rose Parade, themed "Building Dreams, Friendships & Memories," begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. It will be televised on KSL Channel 5.