Nick of time

Nick of time

When Ted Grazman was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2000, at age 59, he wanted to do everything he could to help those studying this brain disorder to understand it better, his wife Marsha recalled the other day.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, affects one in nine people 65 and older. It causes progressive memory loss as well as problems with thinking and sometimes behavior. Of the 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, an estimated 5.2 million people are age 65 and older, and roughly 200,000 are under age 65 (early-onset), according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, it is estimated that someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds.

“Once diagnosed, Ted became very involved with the Alzheimer’s Association (St. Louis chapter). He said, “I’ve been diagnosed. I want to do whatever I can to help,’” said Grazman, who is a member of both Congregation Shaare Emeth and Central Reform Congregation. “He schlepped me along to support groups there. He was able to articulate what he was feeling as he went through the early and middle stages. He participated in many research projects, volunteered every day of the week and created an outreach program for early-onset Alzheimer’s patients. He was a courageous man.”

After he died in 2009, Marsha, who was the first head of school at the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy (now part of Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School) stayed connected to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

“One day I got a call from the head of the agency saying they could really use help in trying to get more Jewish families to access the resources and services they provide,” said Grazman. “Though they have several Jewish people on their board, they didn’t seem to have many Jews walking through their doors.”

Grazman knew the Alzheimer’s Association had a program called Faith Ambassadors in conjunction with area churches. At the time, there was no Jewish counterpart.

“I agreed to be a Faith Ambassador and do a program at Shaare Emeth,” she said. “We got a team together and did an informational program two years ago that was open to the entire Jewish community. About 100 people came.”

Grazman said the program was a good first step but more needed to happen. She wanted “to change the culture” around Alzheimer’s, which she contends often carries a stigma.

“I know what a lonely journey it is when someone gets diagnosed,” she said. “People often pull back because they don’t know what to say or do. The stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s and dementia is so strong. I’ve had friends say they would rather have pancreatic cancer than Alzheimer’s.

“What they don’t realize is that there are worse things in the world,” she continued. “Of the years Ted lived with Alzheimer’s after being diagnosed (he likely had symptoms five years earlier, she said), eight of them were good. We went to Hawaii, Israel; we traveled while he could travel. It was a countdown but we still had time.”

Eventually Grazman secured grant money from the Women’s Auxiliary Foundation for Jewish Aged, which is administered by Jewish Federation of St. Louis. She also spoke to Rabbis James Stone Goodman and Jim Bennett, who were finishing and beginning their terms, respectively, as head of the St. Louis Rabbinical Society. 

“I’m convinced the way to destigmatize this disease is to educate people so they can really understand it and not have a wall come down once they hear the diagnosis,” she said. “The idea of creating something where rabbis and the Alzheimer’s Association could help congregations be more inclusive to families with Alzheimer’s and commit to do some programming for their families would be an amazing thing.”

That idea will be put in action Sunday, June 5, from 9 a.m. to noon, when the Alzheimer’s Association and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association present “Shedding Light on Alzheimer’s: A Jewish Perspective” at the Jewish Community Center Arts and Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. The goal of this free program is to inform people about the disease from a medical, emotional and Jewish/spiritual perspective, and to answer questions and arm them with resources. It will feature presentations from Rabbi Richard Address, founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging, and Dr. George Grossberg, a professor and director of geriatric psychiatry at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

Grossberg has been treating Alzheimer’s patients for more than three decades, yet when we spoke Monday he said he remains optimistic that “we are moving toward prevention” of the disease. 

“My focus is going to be on the positive, on brain health,” he said. “Once there’s been a first-degree relative (usually a parent) diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the big question families always have is, What about us? What can we do to decrease our risk of developing the disease or delay the onset?”

He plans to address those questions and more as well as discuss groundbreaking research, including identifying and treating at-risk individuals decades before they show symptoms of the disease. 

Granted, spending a morning talking about Alzheimer’s doesn’t sound like a trip to the ice cream parlor. But given the knowledge these speakers plan to share, and the increasing numbers of people with the disease, I can promise there will be no empty calories.

While registration is not required, it is requested. To do so, visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

 

The young and the restless

Now we move to the subject of young achievers. First up: 12-year-old Maya Richter, who would like help paying for an Jewish sleep-away camp for young entrepreneurs in Steamboat Springs, Colo. A 2½-week session, including travel, costs $5,000.

Last summer, Maya went to Camp Inc. on a scholarship. While there, she and fellow entrepreneurs came up with a business to repair sports equipment. They developed a bumper that snaps onto the rim of Ping-Pong paddles and covers the grip tape so it won’t peel.

“We made a prototype,” said Maya, who just completed sixth grade at Wydown Middle School in Clayton and belongs to Bais Abraham. “All the kids in my group are going back so that we can take the prototype and really develop our business. We hope to donate a certain amount of the profits (from the business) to charities that help people with natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.”

In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit, Maya’s parents said she would need to raise the money for the camp this summer. So she started a web account called Maya's Camp Inc. Fund, but she is still $1,400 short. If you want to help, visit gofundme.com/mayas-journey.

Next up: Aerin Leigh Lammers, who just completed her sophomore year at Parkway North High School where she was class president. In addition, she was chosen as a Hugh O’Brian Youth Leader for Parkway North and will be attending a leadership conference this summer; was elected secretary for the student council; was on the team that won $10,000 in the Lexus-Eco Challenge, and will be serving as character education and community involvement lead for the marching band. She also continues the effort she started in sixth grade to help replenish healthy snacks at the Circle of Concern Food Pantry and has a leadership position with Shaare Emeth’s youth group. All this, and reports her mother, Aerin manages to make her bed 85 percent of the time.