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National Alzheimer's Dinner spotlights victories, honors leaders

At the National Alzheimer's Dinner during the 2024 AIM Advocacy Forum, advocates celebrated public policy victories, and leaders were honored for their critical roles in making Alzheimer's a national priority.

Actor and advocate David Hyde Pierce served as the evening's emcee. The audience was shown a photo of Pierce from his appearance as a contestant on "Celebrity Jeopardy" in 1994. As he had lost his grandfather to Alzheimer's and his grandmother to the strain of caring for him, Pierce donated half of his winnings to an organization then unfamiliar to him: the Alzheimer's Association.

A relationship with the Association began soon after — and an interest in advocacy was sparked when Alzheimer's once again impacted his family.

"My dad developed vascular dementia and probable Alzheimer's," Pierce said. "My brother and sisters and I became caregivers, and what we'd learned working with the Association gave us the ability to understand and better handle our dad's decline."

In addition to his appreciation for what the Association provided his family, Pierce credited everyone in the room for all of the cause's significant achievements over the years.

"I'm blown away by all that's been accomplished," he said. "This monumental progress is due to the urgent, inspired, unstoppable advocacy of the Alzheimer's Impact Movement, the Alzheimer's Association and every one of you."

A retiring champion

Pierce presented the night's first award, the Alzheimer's Association Lifetime Leadership Award, to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Stabenow, who is retiring at the end of this year, has introduced or cosponsored many vital pieces of Alzheimer's legislation, including the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act, the HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act, the Comprehensive Care for Alzheimer's Act, the ENACT Act, the NAPA Reauthorization Act and the Alzheimer's Accountability and Investment Act.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow addresses the crowd after receiving the Alzheimer's Association Lifetime Leadership Award.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow addresses the crowd after receiving the Alzheimer's Association Lifetime Leadership Award.

"Debbie, we're going to miss you," Pierce said. "Our Congress, our country and our cause have been profoundly changed by you."

"I don’t have a mom or a grandma, or someone from my immediate family, who has had Alzheimer's disease,” Stabenow said. "But I have seen what happens with this disease, so it is such an honor to be with all of you who are passionate caregivers and advocates … It's not about the numbers, it's about the people. Sharing your stories is so critical."

Alzheimer's Association and AIM CEO Joanne Pike, DrPH, spoke about the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation's announcement of the Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience Model (GUIDE), which she called "the most important dementia care initiative our country has ever undertaken." GUIDE will address systemic challenges faced by people living with dementia and their caregivers and help improve health equity in dementia care delivery.

"Too many of you in this room have experienced the unique, deeply frustrating and tremendously challenging elements of dementia care," Pike said. "This program has the potential to improve quality of life, reduce strain on caregivers and help people remain in their homes and communities longer."

Pike presented the first AIM Humanitarian of the Year Award to Dr. Elizabeth Fowler, CMMI director and a key leader in making GUIDE possible.

"It really is your advocacy and your input that has shaped this [GUIDE] model," Fowler said. "It wouldn't be what it is without all of you. Thank you very much. I can't tell you how humbled and honored I am to receive this award."

Inspiring our community

The second Humanitarian of the Year Award recipient was Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). Minoo Javanmardian, chair-elect of the Alzheimer's Association Board of Directors, called Buchanan "an outstanding leader and longtime champion for people living with Alzheimer's and other dementia who has encouraged and inspired our community."

As chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Buchanan has been instrumental in many bipartisan legislative successes, including the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, the Younger-Onset Alzheimer's Disease Act and the ENACT Act. He has also fought for access to Food and Drug Administration-approved Alzheimer's treatments.

"I want to do everything I can to help you and help us get where we want to go," Buchanan said. "You have my commitment and pledge on that."

Pierce presented the third Humanitarian Award to Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who has supported, among other priorities, the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer's Act, the Younger-Onset Alzheimer's Disease Act, the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer's Act, the Comprehensive Care for Alzheimer's Act and the ENACT Act. A caregiver for her mother living with the disease, Barragán has also been an unwavering champion for increasing federal Alzheimer's and dementia research funding.

"I know the sacrifices families and caregivers make in time, money and resources to provide care and comfort to our loved ones battling this disease," Barragán said. "This is a fight that I undertake not only as a congresswoman but as a primary caregiver who is determined to make a difference for all families who face this heartbreaking journey. Together, we can and we will make a difference."

Alzheimer's Association Chief Public Policy Officer and AIM President Robert Egge presented the Forum's second AIM Advocate of the Year Award to Sue Wronsky of Maryland. Wronsky is an Alzheimer's Association Ambassador, a Walk to End Alzheimer's® and The Longest Day® participant, and an AIM Leadership Society member. She has also helped recruit, train and mentor new advocates to be part of AIM; testified before the House Energy & Commerce Committee; and represented AIM and the Association before the White House on the importance of ensuring affordable access to new treatments.

"Like each and every one of you, Sue's story underscores the opportunity each of us has to change the course of how our nation addresses Alzheimer's and all other dementia," Egge said.

Following in her father's footsteps

Wronsky's mother, Lynn, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's in 1991. Her father, Marty, dedicated himself to fighting on his wife's behalf after being challenged by a mentor and family friend to step up. He wrote countless letters to the editor and to his elected officials, participated in State Advocacy Days and attended one Advocacy Forum.

Advocate of the Year Award winner Sue Wronsky.

Advocate of the Year Award winner Sue Wronsky.

"This year marks my 20th year of taking up my father's mantle as an advocate. I am beyond honored to be standing in front of all of you inspiring people tonight," Wronsky said. "We may not all be experts in the field, but we are experts in our own stories. We must continue to use our voices to tell those stories. If not us, then who?"

Pierce closed the evening by urging advocates to carry the victories celebrated with them as they meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Hill Day and in their communities year-round.

"It's not a burden. It's not a challenge. It's who you are. It's why you're here," Pierce said. "Bring all that with you tomorrow to go to Capitol Hill. And as you climb and conquer all the other hills in the year ahead, hold in your hearts the victories we've celebrated and the heroes we've honored tonight. The progress we've celebrated is because of you."

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