WEST ORANGE, NJ –Hundreds gathered at The Waterfront on the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange last weekend to support the Alzheimer’s Association in its Essex-Hudson-Union version of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care.

“It was a beautiful day, and the community rose up over 1,000 strong, to show their support,” said Cheryl Ricci-Francione, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater New Jersey chapter (AAGNJ). “This is a cohesive and passionate community. I am certain that our local families and businesses will exceed all fundraising expectations.”

“The funds raised will move global research efforts forward and will provide much needed local care and support services. We have already reached 90 percent of our goal, and fundraising will continue through Dec. 31."

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia that results in the loss of brain cells and function. The disease is also the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only disease in the top 10 for which there is no cure and no treatment.

More than 200,000 New Jersey residents are living with the disease, but according to Ricci-Francione, a scarier thought is that there are approximately 500,000 people “taking care of their loved ones on a full-time basis.”

“[This] means now it’s effectively the whole household,” she said. “Spouses can’t work, adult children can’t work, because it’s a full-time job to take care of somebody with Alzheimer’s.”

Robyn Kohn, Director of Programs and Services for AAGNJ, noted that Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis in addition to being “a heart-breaking disease.”

“We work with our families every single day to help them find the resources, the education and the services that they need to be able to go on with their lives,” said Kohn, adding that this also helps those affected adapt to their “new normal.”

She continued that the AAGNJ also has a series of support groups across Essex, Hudson and Union counties that provide information and resources to people with the disease and their caregivers. These programs range from “Memory Cafés”—a safe space for individuals and families dealing with memory loss to find social interaction and support—to community forums that help people learn more about the disease.

“People are living longer and diagnosed earlier, but Alzheimer’s is not a one size fits all disease,” said Kohn, adding that this might frustrate both the individual with the disease and the caretakers who attend to him or her.

Because of this, AAGNJ encourages all families to call the free 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900, where a representative will be able to answer any questions that an individual may have.

“We’re here to stop the spiral [of Alzheimer’s],” said Ricci-Francione.

During the Essex/Hudson/Union walk, West Orange Township Councilwoman Susan McCartney presented a proclamation on behalf of the township to Ricci-Francione to represent the township’s hope that the association’s efforts will eventually lead to a cure.

A total of 24 teams participated in the race, which raised a total of $183,000 as of the walk’s start time and will continue to raise funds until Dec. 31.

Prior to the walk, those in attendance took some time to remember their reasons for walking. Participants held different colored flowers representing a different reason.

Those who held orange flowers were there to support the cause and the association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s. Those holding purple flowers, like Steven Mazzari and his wife, Lauren, of Montclair, participated because they lost someone to the disease.

“My mother-in-law and [Lauren’s] grandmother both suffered, and we felt it important to participate and contribute,” said Mazzari.

Those holding yellow flowers reminded others that they participated because they are currently caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Those who held a blue flower came because they are living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Holding their flowers high, participants created a “Promise Garden” with the hope that one day another flower—a white one—would be added to the collection.

On that day, the white flower will be held by the very first survivor of Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading non-for-profit funder of global research and a leader in federal and state advocacy efforts to ensure that caretakers are able to provide the best care and quality of life for their loved ones.

The AAGNJ is currently seeking more volunteers to join its community in the following categories:

  • Community Educators
  • Support Group Facilitators (Caregiver or Early Stage)
  • Community Volunteers
  • Promoters
  • Faith Outreach Representatives
  • Early Stage Social Engagement Leaders

Anyone wishing to participate in a clinical trial should visit alz.org/TrialMatch.

For more general information or to donate to the cause, visit alz.org or contact the association at 800-272-3900, where a representative will be able to provide information or resources in more than 200 languages.