Ohio stands alone as the only one of the 50 states without a formal action plan in place to confront Alzheimer’s disease. An approved plan would boost awareness and activate vital tools and resources needed to fight the disease, which afflicts more than 220,000 people across Ohio. That number is expected to grow in the years ahead.
Bonnie H. Marcus is hopeful that Ohio will soon take this vital step.
“Baby boomers, the largest segment of the population, are moving into a period of greater risk,” says Marcus, board chair for the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter. “This means more people are going to be diagnosed and more people are going to need services. It’s a drain, not only on affected families, but on businesses. It’s just tremendous the impact to our society.”
Ready to fight
Marcus has first-hand experience with the pain of Alzheimer’s. Her mother was diagnosed in the late 1980s, and for a decade, Marcus traveled regularly between Ohio and Arizona to assist her father in caring for her mother. When Marcus learned that her grandmother also had the disease, which wasn’t known as Alzheimer’s at the time, she set out to learn as much as she could about it.
“I learned early on that Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the person with the disease,” Marcus says. “It impacts everyone around that person, whether it’s a spouse, a brother or sister. It just takes down the entire family.”
After her mom passed away in 1999 and her father a year later, Marcus took the next step in her tireless crusade.
“I walked into the Alzheimer’s Association, met with the executive director at the time and said, ‘Here I am, I’ll do anything,’” she says.
Not done yet
Marcus has spent nearly 20 years serving various leadership roles with the Alzheimer’s Association, raising funds and helping the nonprofit agency continue broadening its reach. In 2016, she helped lead the effort to merge local chapters with the national organization and transition from a fiduciary board to a high-impact board of volunteers.
Studies continue to help researchers better understand the role nutrition, exercise and regular social interaction can play in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Marcus is working as hard as ever, even as she prepares to retire — for a second time.
“We’re advocating for touching people, raising awareness and issuing glimmers of hope,” she says. “I do believe that is out there.”
The search for a cure
The Alzheimer’s Association has set an ambitious goal to modify, prevent or cure the disease by 2025.
“We’ll probably be heading in the direction of disease modification and prevention,” Marcus says. “Doctors are so used to writing a prescription and saying, ‘Here, take this for whatever ails you.’ Right now, we don’t have that opportunity with Alzheimer’s. But we’re working on it.”