PRINCETON, NJ - The impact of Alzheimer’s disease on our state and within our community is not trivial. According to research done by Alzheimer’s New Jersey, about 180,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and over 420,000 have taken on caregiving responsibilities in New Jersey alone. And as the elderly population is expected to be the fastest growing age group in New Jersey (by 2028, the NJ Division of Labor Market and Demographic Research projects that every one in five residents will be 65 or older) Alzheimer’s is likely to become a more prominent concern for our community.

Luckily, local businesses and practices have recognized the need for community action in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. This year, Franklin Township residents Susan Chiang and Ion Furtuna, owners of Home Helpers and Direct Link of Somerset, and Hillsborough-based Adult and Geriatric Psychiatrist Dr. Shailaja Shah will be hitting the trails at the Central Regional Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s in Princeton, which is to take place Oct. 7.  

The annual walks hosted by Alzheimer’s New Jersey, a non-profit organization that provides programs, resources and services to those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, work to raise money to advance research to support the caregiving for and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

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“The walks are incredible events for support, for raising awareness, and letting people know that they really are not alone in this disease,” Ken Zaentz, President and CEO of Alzheimer’s NJ said in a recent interview with Comcast Newsmakers.

Let’s meet the local teams:

Home Helpers of Somerset

Franklin Township residents Susan Chiang and Ion Furtuna, owners of Home Helpers and Direct Link of Somerset, have recently registered for the walk as a way to further their support of the local elderly community living with Alzheimer’s.

“The majority of our clients are actually in the early to late stages of Alzheimer’s, and it’s very sad,” Chiang said. “So we immediately saw the benefit in participating in the walk and raising money to find a cure.”

In 2004, Chiang and her husband were looking to start a business – but not just any business. They wanted to do something that helped people. Noticing the local aging population and the needs of their own aging parents, they decided to pursue a calling in caregiving.

The result was Home Helpers, an agency that provides a wide range of individualized, in-home personal caregiving services to Somerset and Middlesex counties to elderly individuals, new moms, and those recovering from hospitalizations. When it comes to patients suffering with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, Home Helpers works to match each client with trained caregivers who can provide things like monitoring services, hourly companionship, and 24 hour assisted living services.

The Home Helpers team witnesses the effects of Alzheimer’s first hand and is constantly looking for ways to improve the situation of their clients. For this reason, Chiang, her husband and kids will be joining the Central Regional Walk, and they are hoping that their family, friends and the loved ones of their clients will register alongside them.

“Our community actually has a lot of aging individuals, and Alzheimer’s could affect you or your family in the future, so it is very important for everyone to get involved,” Chiang said. “Participating in this walk is such an easy way to work towards the cure. Just walk!”

“On The Move” -  Dr. Shailaja Shah

Another local team working to do good for the Alzheimer’s community, called “On the Move”, is small, but incredibly mighty. The team of one, led by Bridgewater resident Dr. Shailaja Shah, has raised a whopping $2,750.00 for the cause.

Practicing in Hillsborough as a Board-Certified Adult and Geriatric Psychiatrist, Dr. Shah explains that a bulk of her work involves helping patients suffering with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as their families and caregivers.

“Because I’ve been touched by the personal stories over the years in my practice as a physician, I feel that there is a need for everyone to do more, in addition to the good work of all of the Alzheimer’s organizations,” Dr. Shah said. “Individuals just need resources to be able to take care of those who are struggling, and it takes a whole village.”

After completing her residency at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in addition to a fellowship at UMDNJ, Dr. Shah became involved in the community education efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association by volunteering and speaking at conferences.  She later became a board member at the local New Jersey chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in 2007.

“Through my work with the Alzheimer’s Association, I realized that there was much more to be done especially for caregivers within my capacity as an educator,” Dr. Shah said. “I thought the walk was a good way to go further with my efforts, since all of the money that the New Jersey chapter collects goes directly towards our local community in need.”

This year, Dr. Shah was one of the first individuals to register for the walk and is currently the leading fundraiser.

“Normally, it’s not my cup of tea to ask people for money, but I just feel so strongly about this cause that I’ve been able to reach out to family and friends and colleagues without being shy,” Dr. Shah said. “Every single dollar counts, even just a five-dollar donation.”

Looking to get involved?

Those who are Interested in participating in a local Walk for Alzheimer’s can register for a number of upcoming dates and locations, and have the option to join a team, create a team, or to walk as an individual. Alternatively, if you’re looking to support the cause but can’t make it to one of the five upcoming walks, Alzheimer’s NJ also accepts online donations.  

Zaentz encourages those affected by Alzheimer’s in any way to use the resources provided by Alzheimer’s New Jersey, which include everything from information about the disease to caregiving training. To learn about the resources available, Zaentz suggests calling Alzheimer’s New Jersey at 888-280-6055 or by heading to www.altznj.org.