Photo courtesy of AAGNJ
By Steve Sears
For Livingston resident Jessica Cohen, the battle is a personal one.
Recently named to chair the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater New Jersey (AAGNJ) chapter’s committee for The Longest Day event, the cause hits close to home.
Her grandmother suffers with dementia. “This is actually my first year being involved in The Longest Day,” she says. “A few years ago, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve been away at school, in college. This was actually my first year home. I was visiting her when I was home for vacation before, but now I really got to see the effects, especially during COVID, on families, and also her state progressed a little bit. So, I was able to see the progression.” Now in a gap year prior to medical school, Cohen – who while at the University of Florida was exposed to different fields of medicine while also getting involved more with her grandmother – decided that neuro, especially Alzheimer’s and other dementias, was going to be her life’s focus as she heads to medical school. “Having to see my grandma progress, I don’t want to see anyone else in the future have to go through this.”
A successful kickoff was held on Friday, February 5. Cohen says, “It was very interesting to see why everyone else was involved in The Longest Day. Everyone kind of has their own story, why they’re a part of it. It kind of motivates me to do even more, seeing how many people are in the battle and fighting together. Even when it seems like my area is small, it’s just united so many people.”
“The Longest Day started as a single day event on the summer solstice, which this year is June 20,” says Danielle Buckler, Special Events Coordinator for AAGNJ. “This has grown into a year-round fundraising initiative; it raises funds for Alzheimer’s disease by encouraging people to participate by doing activities they love. We’ve had participants who have done anything from two young girls who had a lemonade stand who raised thousands of dollars, we had a gentleman who did rugby tournaments, we’ve had people who have just done hiking, and some just simple fundraisers on their own.”
Monies raised go to global research programs (there are 500 research programs in over 31 countries), and researchers from around the globe gather at an international conference called the Alzheimer’s International Conference. “We have a 24/7, 365 days a year helpline that is available in over 200 languages,” adds Buckler. “We also provide free education programs to the community and free support groups.” Buckler also states that a number of global partners buttress the battle with contributions. “The global teams are companies or organizations that commit to fundraising $50,000 or more each,” she says, “and they’re across five or more Alzheimer’s Association chapter territories. So, they have locations in at least five areas.”
In addition to The Longest Day, there are other ways the community can get involved with AAGNJ and the fight against Alzheimer’s. Volunteers are welcome to conduct educational programs after going through proper training, and taking an active part in the fall Walk to End Alzheimer’s is another option. For the more politically inclined, volunteer advocates on behalf of legislation are needed both on the state and federal level, and they would work with the AAGNJ advocacy public policy team.
“My personal role,” says Cohen, “is honestly to spread awareness first of all, because especially during COVID right now, there’s many things that have hindered care for individuals that are suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A big thing is isolation, and also with having to isolate ourselves and stay away from those people that are more susceptible with Alzheimer’s to getting COVID where it’s more dangerous for them. It’s harder to fundraise and do things at care facilities that I guess you would normally do in the past. If COVID wasn’t here right now, I’d probably love to do more activities with the care facilities themselves. However, it’s a little bit harder; you have to improvise and find things to do online and via zoom.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit www.alz.org/get-involved-now/volunteer. More information about The Longest Day event can be found at alz.org/tld.