FLORHAM PARK, NJ — In order to better serve its 14 counties, from Bergen to Ocean, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater New Jersey Chapter (AAGNJ) has officially relocated from Totowa to Florham Park. The centralized facility will help the organization establish an even deeper presence within the community and bring it closer to its vision of a world without Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association, founded in 1980, is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research in the country. Cheryl Ricci-Francione, executive director of AAGNJ, said the relocation will allow the organization to expand its offerings in an area where “there is an ever-growing need and demand for diverse Alzheimer’s and dementia care, support and community education programs.”

“We want to expand our services throughout the state, particularly in the northwestern counties of New Jersey because there’s an unaddressed need there,” she said. “From the suburbs to the cities, our new location allows us to advance and strengthen our partnerships with leading hospitals and health systems, senior housing providers and local senior/public health agencies to assist even more people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers. What better place to lay down new roots than in Florham Park, a town that refers to itself as ‘A Community of Volunteers?’”

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Ricci-Francione said the new location is opening at the perfect time with Brain Awareness Month coming up in June. The AAGNJ goes the extra mile to raise awareness about the importance of brain health and maintaining strong mental cognition. In fact, the Township of Livingston and many other community partners like RWJBarnabas Health have already agreed to “Paint the Town Purple” next month.

“Paint the Town Purple is a fun way to educate the community about good brain health,” said Ricci-Francione. “This way, if there’s a problem with mental cognition, it’s less scary to talk about. The purple is the conversation starter about good brain health. The call to action is that this is something that everyone can jump on board with and celebrate—we can wear purple shirts, we can have purple balloons and streamers, we can make purple cupcakes—whatever we want to do that makes us feel like we’re a part of the initiative.”

The team at AAGNJ has inspired local officials, community groups, organizations and businesses to help them encourage the community to prominently display the color purple—a color the AAGNJ describes as “passionate, strong and unrelenting, just like we are when we all work together”—throughout the month in their clothing, decorations and more. Participating organizations are also hosting community events such as exercise classes and social media contests and more for the cause.

Ricci-Francione said some of the most visible initiatives can be seen at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, where the exterior will be illuminated purple for the entire month, and the new Atrium Post Acute Care of Livingston, which will have a purple ribbon wrapped around the building to serve as a reminder that dementia is “something we need to talk about openly and candidly to erase the stigma.” The Livingston Public Library, the West Essex YMCA, Clarendon Adult Day Care, and many other organizations are also getting involved by hosting educational seminars and brain awareness events throughout the month.

In addition, Pucci Performing Arts Center and Ady Art Center in Livingston will both be hosting dance class fundraisers, and Arthur Murray Dance Studios, a nationwide partner of the Alzheimer’s Association, is holding fundraisers in nine of its New Jersey-based locations. Ricci-Francione said that dance and exercise are both great ways to stimulate the brain.

“These are groups who are working collaboratively with us to help get the word out that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not dirty words,” said Ricci-Francione. “People can be comfortable with discussing them and knowing the signs, so that they everyone can help them. We want to educate about these diseases, but good brain health is also important for everyone—not just people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Over 100 of these activities will be occurring throughout the state in June raising both awareness and funds.”

Ricci-Francione said there is still time for groups to sign up to host an event, family-friendly activity and/or fundraiser to help bring awareness to the disease.

Knowing the signs of Alzheimer’s is something AAGNJ believes all individuals should be aware of. One of the AAGNJ’s most beneficial primary resources offered to not only those experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but also for those whose loved ones are showing signs, is its 24-hour helpline (1-800-272-3900) manned by social workers seven days a week, 365 days per year.

“People who are in need of help can call that 800 number free of charge and it’s completely confidential,” said Ricci-Francione. “They will get a 20-minute consult to direct them to the resources that they desire. So, if your loved one is in distress in middle of the night or getting agitated, you can call the number and they will walk you through what to do and give you resources to call in the morning.”

AAGNJ also has support groups throughout the state, and will train facilities interested in offering a support group through their organization. Educational programs, like “Know the 10 Signs,” “Basics for Caregivers,” special seminars on how to interact with Alzheimer’s patients at each level of the disease and more are also offered to the community for free.

“The whole point of our free educational services is to empower people who are going through this with their families,” said Ricci-Francione. “We offer free care and support on a local level, we have the 800 number, an amazing website for people to self-educate and we support national research. The goal is a better quality of life for these families.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is the No. 1 national funder of research for Alzheimer’s, a disease that is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. According to the organization’s most recent facts and figures report, nearly 6 million people in the country are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and one in three seniors will die from the disease.   

In New Jersey alone, nearly 200,000 residents are currently living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia; 453,000 caregivers are currently providing 516 million hours of unpaid care; and Medicaid costs among residents age 65 and older currently exceed $2.011 billion, according to the same report.

“This disease impacts everybody in the family and it can also devastate a family financially if they don’t have information about resources that are available to them,” said Ricci-Francione. “Alzheimer’s is a family affair and it’s absolutely essential that families have information and resources to maintain quality of life and manage this financially.”

With more than 20 years of experience with not-for-profits, Ricci-Francione has always had a passion for geriatrics and a concern for quality of life for older individuals. After working for many years as the associate executive director at the West Essex YMCA in Livingston, Ricci-Francione said the transition to her position at the AAGNJ was a natural one.

Since there is currently no known cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s disease, Ricci-Francione quickly adopted the AAGNJ’s mission to eliminate the disease through advanced research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected and to reduce the risk of dementia through brain health. As Ricci-Francione explains, “our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s.”

AAGNJ’s grand opening will be commemorated with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by Florham Park Mayor Mark Taylor at 6 p.m. on June 14. At its private reception immediately following, the AAGNJ will welcome Jim Hendrix, Ph.D., the Alzheimer’s Association’s director of global science initiatives, who is being flown in from Chicago specifically for this event to educate guests about the latest in research efforts to find a cure.

“We’re looking to bring like-minded people together to help us find a cure,” said Ricci-Francione. “The goal of the grand opening is to let the community know that we’re a resource for them and we’re here to partner with them in the fight against Alzheimer’s.”

Although barely settled into its new location, the team at the AAGNJ has been hard at work organizing and raising funds for its five Walk to End Alzheimer’s events, to be held on Sept. 9 at Horseshoe Lake Park in Roxbury; Sept. 23 at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in Ewing; Sept. 29 at the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange; Oct. 14 at Overpeck Park in Ridgefield Park; and Oct. 20 at Bradley Beach Boardwalk in Bradley Beach.

As of this week, AAGNJ has raised nearly $8,000 toward its 2018 goal for its Essex-Hudson Walk in West Orange, and 25 teams have already registered to participate. For the new Northwest Walk in Roxbury, $1,140 has been raised.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is held annually nationwide and is the world’s largest event that raises funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. To find a walk or to volunteer, click HERE.

The new AAGNJ headquarters is located at 23 Vreeland Road, Suite 105. For more information, to volunteer with AAGNJ or to become a sponsor of an upcoming walk, call the local office at 973-437-3931 or visit www.alz.org/nj