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Advocates celebrate successes, vow to continue fighting
for progress

More than 1,000 advocates gathered from all 50 states for the 2024 Alzheimer's Impact Movement (AIM) Advocacy Forum to share their stories and help advance policies that will help people living with dementia and their caregivers.

The opening program was led by Advocacy Forum co-chairs Julia Wallace and Tony Gonzales, advocates who have been affected by the disease differently, sharing their dedication to making an impact in the fight to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia. Wallace and Gonzales welcomed advocates and reminisced on last year's successes, and asked attendees to replicate them this year.

"I'm confident, looking out at this crowd, that this is a group of inspiring, passionate and dedicated individuals who are here to make a difference," Wallace said.

Advocate Reda Harrison traveled from Kentucky to attend the Forum for the first time. Diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at the age of 58, she spoke about her personal journey and her desire to provide hope to others living with the disease.

"I was lost the first two years [after my diagnosis]. I didn't know where to turn until I got connected with the Alzheimer's Association," Harrison said. "My personal [goal] is to help other people living with the disease to have some hope. This is not the end of our lives. We have lots to do!"

The energy and excitement continued to build as advocates were recognized for their relentless commitment to raising awareness and fostering understanding about the challenges faced by people living with dementia and their families.

Kanada Yazbek (right) with Association President and CEO Joanne Pike.

Kanada Yazbek (right) with Association President and CEO Joanne Pike.

Two advocates were honored with the Advocate of the Year Award. The first award was presented during the opening program, with the second to be given during the National Alzheimer's Dinner on April 8. The first recipient was Kanada Yazbek, a dedicated Association volunteer long before she was diagnosed with MCI.

Association Chief Public Policy Officer and AIM President Robert Egge presented the award to Yazbek and described her as "someone who has inspired so many of us with her strength, tenacity and compassion." Egge continued to highlight Yazbek's accomplishments, including the strong relationship she has built with Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and her role as a mentor to other advocates.

One of Yazbek's notable advocacy moments was the time she confronted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. She stood proud in front of Becerra, advocating on behalf of everyone who was being denied access to Medicare coverage of Alzheimer's disease treatments.

"When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) initially denied coverage for these medications, the voice I had developed became a roar," said Yazbek. "No one was going to deny me or anyone I loved living with this disease a treatment that could help. I knew that life as an Alzheimer's Association advocate had become my life's passion and purpose."

Attendees cheered as Yazbeck accepted the award and expressed how proud she is to represent all advocates. She reminded the crowd that because of their collective efforts, CMS is now covering treatment, research funding is at an all-time high, and "state and federal lawmakers are listening to us and now know us for the powerful warriors we are!"

Other awardees included New York's 15th Congressional District, which received the Congressional Team of the Year Award. The team includes Margaret Alexander, Dalma Riquelme and Evelyn Alvarez; all three advocates have been caregivers for their mothers.

"Through advocacy, we have become the voices for our mothers and all other families suffering through this disease," said Alexander. "We may not have the power to end the progression of the disease in our mothers, but what is in our power is being the voice of our mothers."

Finally, the inaugural State Policy Achievement Award was awarded to the team from South Carolina, a state that appropriated $10 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to contract with three state universities to develop an application for a multi-institutional Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC). The funding will help secure the new ADRC, which will drive significant growth in the development and implementation of state-led dementia-specific programs and initiatives.

Association Area Leaders Eric VanVlymen and Kenann Cassidy bestowed the award upon advocates and South Carolina Chapter staff. Cassidy commended the recipients: "In 2023, the state of South Carolina took tremendous steps to build an infrastructure that ensures a coordinated statewide response to Alzheimer's and all other dementia."

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