National Alzheimer's Dinner honors heroes in the movement to end Alzheimer's

April 23, 2013

On Tuesday, April 23, hundreds of guests attended the National Alzheimer's Dinner to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease and benefit the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer's Association. Held during the Alzheimer's Association 25th annual Advocacy Forum, the dinner attracted some of the country's most influential and respected political, business and entertainment leaders to honor those who have helped to advance the movement to end Alzheimer's.

The night began with first honoree, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Alzheimer's Association President and CEO Harry Johns took to the stage to present McConnell with the first of the night's two Humanitarian Awards honoring significant policy contributions made to enhance care and support and the advancement of research on behalf of people with Alzheimer's.

"Sen. McConnell was absolutely instrumental in ensuring that the National Alzheimer's Project Act was brought to the floor for a vote," said Johns. "As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he advocates for our need to address the Alzheimer's epidemic now and outlines the consequences if the disease is left unchecked. He and his staff have worked hand in hand with the Association, and we are honored to call him a friend."

McConnell thanked the Alzheimer's Association and expressed his admiration for advocates engaged in the fight against Alzheimer's.

"Alzheimer's is such a formidable opponent. It touches nearly all of us in one way or another," said McConnell. "And those of us who have seen Alzheimer's up close know it is tough to stare down. That's why I have such respect for Alzheimer's patients and caregivers. That's why the Alzheimer's Association has been so successful. It takes real grit and determination to move forward to find a cure.

"It's clear this won't be an easy battle. We know we won't see a cure tomorrow, or even next year," he continued. "But with the help of your organization, more and more people are learning about the fight. I think we should be hopeful tonight — and grateful for all those who have given so much to this cause."

Terry Moran, co-anchor of ABC News' "Nightline" and a longtime Alzheimer's Champion, served as master of ceremonies and shared his personal experience with Alzheimer's, explaining that his mother lived with the disease before passing away in 2000. Moran called those living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers "heroes."

"My brother Jay is my hero. And he's a familiar hero to families who live with Alzheimer's. As my mother declined, he was her primary caregiver," Moran said. "And if you know that process, you know the strain it puts on a person — not just the physical strain, but the strain of a child caring for a parent who is totally dependent. Jay taught me, in his tenderness and in his patience and love, that my mother was still beautiful.

"You and the Alzheimer's Association are making hope real," Moran told advocates. "As we work toward a world without Alzheimer's, you are all my heroes."

Johns returned to the stage to welcome the crowd, calling attention to the current momentum behind the fight against the disease.

"Significant new resources, in difficult times, are being dedicated to Alzheimer's. You've seen Alzheimer's singled out in the State of the Union and in the president's budget. We've seen the first-ever National Alzheimer's Plan — a direct result of your advocacy and the bipartisan leadership of prominent congressional leaders, several of whom are with us this evening," said Johns. "We have momentum — increasing momentum. And we need it."

Johns issued a challenge to those in the room: to take that momentum and make the most of it.

"Alzheimer's, because of its devastating human impact and skyrocketing cost, is our country's greatest opportunity. It's also our greatest bipartisan opportunity, as demonstrated by the National Alzheimer's Plan itself, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress,' he said. "Now, it's you, as advocates, who need to work with our champions in Congress to ensure that the National Alzheimer's Plan has the resources necessary to accomplish the goal of ending Alzheimer's by 2025."

The awards presentation continued as Alzheimer's Association National Board member and founding member of the Alzheimer's Impact Movement (AIM) Debbie Jones stepped to the stage to recognize the second Humanitarian Award recipient, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

"Through his work as chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Harkin's efforts were crucial in building support for the National Alzheimer's Project Act and moving the bill through his committee and to the Senate floor, where he helped to secure unanimous support for the first Alzheimer's bill in 18 years," said Jones. "As you know, this represented a landmark moment for our community — a moment made possible by the senator and his dedicated staff."

Sen. Harkin expressed his gratitude for the award and his appreciation for the advocates assembled in the room.

"Thank you for speaking up for millions of Americans with Alzheimer's who cannot speak for themselves," Harkin said. "I know you will spend the day tomorrow educating members of Congress and their staff. I have always believed that the most effective and powerful advocates in the fight against Alzheimer's are ordinary citizens, including the people in this room.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the National Institutes of Health, was next to the stage to present the Chairman's Award to former Congressman Dennis Moore.

"Tonight we are here because Dennis is one of the people who has discovered he is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. He is someone who has dedicated his entire life to making a difference in other people's lives, and he's taking this circumstance and is doing what he's done his entire life," said Moran. "He is trying to make someone else's life better. It would be easy for Dennis and [his wife] Stephene to do something else. But we wouldn't expect them to do anything else but to step forward and help others."

Moore, accompanied by Stephene, accepted the award with a huge smile.

"Thanks for this wonderful award," he said. "Stephene and I will continue to work to educate people and bring awareness to the public. I can't tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you here this evening."

Dr. Maria Carrillo, Alzheimer's Association vice president of medical and scientific relations, presented the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Award in honor of the courage and leadership demonstrated by the former president and first lady in the fight against Alzheimer's.

"Tonight we recognize a true leader in the development of new treatments for Alzheimer's disease," said Carrillo. "As the director of the division of neurology products at the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Russell Katz has been involved in reviewing and regulating new drug applications related to Alzheimer's disease. He has provided scientific leadership and guidance that reflects his commitment and the commitment of the FDA to vigorously address Alzheimer's disease and hasten the development of breakthrough treatments."

Dr. Katz humbly accepted the award, thanking his family, his staff at the FDA and the Association.

"We are committed to the goal of a treatment or a cure by 2025 as outlined in the National Plan," said Katz. "If I've done anything, I hope that I've convinced people that the FDA is an important partner in the fight to end Alzheimer's. It is a fight, and we will win it."

Filmmakers James Keach and Trevor Albert presented the evening's next honor, the Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award, to country music legend Glen Campbell. Albert and Keach are in production on a documentary featuring Campbell and his family as they face his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

"This award recognizes individuals whose actions have promoted greater understanding of Alzheimer's and its effects on diagnosed individuals, families and caregivers," said Albert. "In spite of the diagnosis, Glen and his family decided to do something very bold. They went public…and then they packed up their band and hit the road."

Campbell, his wife Kim and daughter Ashley accepted the award, stepping on stage as the audience clapped in time to Campbell's hit "Rhinestone Cowboy." As a surprise, advocates presented Campbell with a cake to celebrate his 77th birthday while the audience sang "Happy Birthday."

"Everyone's been so good to me throughout my career as a musician," said Campbell. "Thank you for helping me and my family."

To conclude the evening, Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) presented the Outstanding Advocate of the Year Award to Ron Grant, an individual living with Alzheimer's disease. Prior to his diagnosis, Grant was chaplain of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Medium Security Male Prison for 13 years. He worked with inmates and staff on religious and spiritual needs, coordinated and trained volunteers and administered one-on-one counseling.

"Since his diagnosis, Ron has become an outspoken advocate in the fight against Alzheimer's disease," said Lankford. "He often tells others that his actions are about his children's and his grandchildren's generations. Ron recognizes that advancements in the cause that are made today will have little to no impact on what is in store for him. Yet he presses on. Each day, Ron faces Alzheimer's and stresses that, indeed, there is life after diagnosis, and it should be shared and enjoyed to the fullest."

An emotional Grant thanked his fellow advocates, his wife, the Oklahoma/Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and God for helping him to face the disease. He concluded his remarks by asking the audience a poignant question.

"We live in the greatest nation on the planet," he said. "But I have to ask, in such a great nation, how many more families are going to have to suffer the devastation of this disease? How many more of us are going to have to die before we stand up and say enough?"

Terry Moran closed the evening by issuing the gathered advocates a passionate call to action.

"Looking ahead to tomorrow, we will climb the steps of Capitol Hill together as Alzheimer's advocates. We will climb for the millions of people who have already faced Alzheimer's and the millions more who are at home facing the disease today," he said. "We will climb for the much needed funding for the National Alzheimer's Plan. If you are ready to climb Capitol Hill tomorrow and take our message to Congress, please stand up!"

The entire room stood and cheered in unison, emulating the collective fight to end Alzheimer's disease.

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Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum 2014

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