A fund raising walk that took place in Liberty State Park recently was an effort to raise funds for research and awareness about a disease for which there is currently no cure. In fact, according to Ken Zaentz, president and CEO of Alzheimer’s New Jersey, nobody even knows what causes it.
“I think it’s a larger problem now because we’re living longer,” he said. “But it’s been around for a long time. We just didn’t know that it was a disease.”
The first documented case occurred in 1907 to a 55 year-old woman. People didn’t live long enough in many cases for the symptoms of the disease to appear. In most cases, signs show in people 65 or older.
“Age is the greatest risk factor,” he said. “But it isn’t a normal part of aging.”
In the past, people called it something else.
“We used to say grandma is ‘senile,’ or that her behavior was attributed to ‘hardening of the arteries.’ But these were all some form of dementia.”
New Jersey has an aging population and there are an estimated 170,000 people in New Jersey with Alzheimer’s. And this isn’t just a problem for those stricken with the disease.
“It takes more than one person to provide care,” he said. “So in New Jersey, we’re talking about a half million people affected.”
A recent survey said that 85 percent of caregivers suffer negative emotional health, resulting from depression, and isolation. So the funds raised from charitable efforts like the walk also provide help to caregivers
“We don’t know what causes the disease,” he said. “We don’t how to slow it down. There is no cure.”
He said there are a lot of studies and drug companies in New Jersey and world-wide devote a lot of resources to try to solve this mysterious illness.
“We know some of the characteristics, and learned about a lot about basic biology,” he said. “Thankfully, the disease does not have family connections.”
Women caregivers outnumber men. Overall, 72 percent of caregivers say that family relations are strained by caregiving, and this stretches out over all age groups.
“Our organization like ours has an opportunity to make a difference,” he said, like providing phone lines for people who can direct people to local resources, to information, or for general support.
Sometimes it is just a matter of communicating with somebody, to break the isolation.
“Families learn from each other and hopefully make some relationships that end the isolation and loneliness of the disease,” he said.
Sometimes, caregivers are so isolated they have no social relationships, and the support groups provide this, as well as information as to how to deal with caregiver stress, and to understand some of the behaviors victims of the disease display with strategies for dealing with these.
Since 1985, Alzheimer’s New Jersey has provided care and support for New Jersey families and has helped advance research for a cure. As Alzheimer’s New Jersey (formerly known as Alzheimer’s Association, Greater New Jersey Chapter), their commitment to local programs and services is stronger than ever. Their mission is to respond to the needs of people in New Jersey who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by providing programs and community partnerships that increase awareness and access to services.
The walks which took place throughout Northern New Jersey early this fall, helped raise money to provide these services.
The walk in October in Liberty State Park drew thousands,
Giselle Bellas, a Jersey City resident, served as this year’s Ambassador of the Liberty State Park Walk. Giselle is a singer/songwriter whose diverse music includes a single called “Hazy Eyes” that honors her grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
“This year’s walks are critically important for the New Jersey residents who have Alzheimer’s disease or are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementias,” said Zaentz. “Since we separated from the Alzheimer’s Association, our walk has a new name, but it’s still the same walk in the same locations by the team you know and trust. We know New Jersey, we are New Jersey and we are here for New Jersey families when they need us, using contributions to support the local needs of families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.”
Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s teams are made up of families, friends, and co-workers who come together to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s New Jersey programs and services, as well as research. Corporate, company and individual sponsorships are welcome. Last year the walks raised more than $750,000.
For more information or to donate visit alznj.org or call (888) 280-6055 for more information.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.