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It was a growing sea of purple as one by one, people gathered in a sunny courtyard at the Lutheran Home in Wauwatosa.

Staff members wore deep purple shirts and lavender wigs as they passed out tiny cardboard boxes to everyone who had gathered. Mylar balloons were tied to the wrists of small children and to the wheelchairs of residents.

When the signal was given, everyone gently opened the boxes, slowly peeling back the corners to reveal the contents: butterflies. The crowd marveled as the butterflies fluttered toward the sun or found a comfortable landing spot on an outstretched finger.

A butterfly is a symbol of hope, said Stephanie Leanes, administrator for The Lutheran Home's memory care community. And the day was filled with much hope, as staff, residents, their family members and friends gathered for 'The Longest Day,' an event that raises funds and awareness for the Alzheimer's Association.

The sunrise-to-sunset event is held annually on the summer solstice — this year it fell on June 20 — symbolizing the often challenging journey those living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers face.

The Lutheran Home — with about 40 spots in its memory care community — celebrated the event with a bake sale using donations from area businesses, brain games, a selfie photo booth where residents could dress up in purple mustaches, feathered boas, spectacles and wigs, brain-friendly snacks and the butterfly release.

'There are a lot of people committed to ending this disease,' said Leanes, who wore purple sneakers, a bandanna and purple ribbons tattooed on her cheeks. 'This is the biggest event we've ever done.'

The event symbolizes the challenging journey of those living with the disease and their caregivers. Teams are encouraged to create their own experiences as they fundraise and participate in an activity they love to honor someone facing the disease.

Taped throughout the halls of the Lutheran Home, 7500 W. North Ave., were fact sheets about Alzheimer's — the most common type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior — and personal stories of real-life couples coping with the disease.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and more than 5 million Americans are living with it.

That evening, Red Dot, 6715 W. North Ave. temporarily became the 'Purple Dot,' to support the cause in a one-day event, said Leanes. The bar donated 10 percent of its proceeds to benefit the Alzheimer's Association.

To learn more about the Alzheimer's Assocation visit alz.org.

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