UWGB volleyball game highlights push for early-onset Alzheimer's funding

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A federal push to help people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease is taking center court at UW-Green Bay.

The university is hosting its second Alzheimer's Awareness Volleyball Match Friday, Oct. 18.

It's an issue close to the heart of UWGB girls volleyball head coach Abbey Sutherland. Her mother lives with Alzheimer's disease.

"Just sitting with her is difficult because you can't talk. You can hug her. You can hold her hand, but there's not much interaction or engagement, and I think that's really difficult," says Sutherland. "And it's even more difficult when you see her crying and sad and you don't know what to do to help."

Abbey's mom, Rhonda, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 57. Abbey says her mom showed signs of the disease years prior to the diagnosis.

"Her body is so healthy. She was a physical education teacher and her organs are in great shape, but her mind isn't, and so, we continue this journey, for we don't know how many more years, but it could last a lot longer," says Abbey Sutherland.

Sutherland's story is just one of many she's using as motivation for the second annual Alzheimer's Awareness Volleyball Match. It also features the stories of friends and student athletes.

Sutherland is raising money for the Alzheimer's Association. She's also rallying support and awareness to help people diagnosed at a young age.

"We've got to get rid of the stigma that Alzheimer's is just happening to people in their 80s," says Sutherland.

Part of the push comes in a federal bill introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would offer assistance and support to people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. CLICK HERE to learn more about the bill.

The Older Americans Act currently covers Alzheimer's patients 60 or older. The new proposal would benefit the estimated 200,000 people in the United States diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

"It's affecting their life in so many ways. Most of them are still working, so that affects it," says Laurie Schill, Executive Director, Alzheimer's Association Wisconsin Chapter. "Their family... the services that they need, the support in the community they need... we don't want them to become isolated."

Sutherland says, "She wouldn't have been eligible for it, and I'm excited to continue to partner with the Alzheimer's Association and learn about what they're trying to do."

The volleyball match is Friday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., at the Kress Events Center. The Green Bay Phoenix play the Wright State Raiders.

Fans are encouraged to wear purple to support the cause.

An Alzheimer's event will be held in the hospitality room at 5 p.m.