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Forget Me Not Play Raises Alzheimer’s Awareness to Community

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Hundreds of senior citizens and Rutgers affiliates recently made their way into the Paul Robeson Center’s Essex Room for the anticipated performance of Forget Me Not. Presented by the Rutgers University-Newark’s African-American Brain Health Initiative (AABHI), Forget Me Not is an award-winning stage play presented to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease while educating the public on prevention methods.

Forget Me Not was directed and written by Garrett Davis, who was lost about what to do after his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The play centers around June (played by Davis), a senior husband and father whose onset progression of Alzheimer's begins to emotionally impact those closest to him, including his daughter (played by Kynya Milam), who is in denial. The Forget Me Not Project stems from the play and informs communities across the United States about the condition.

“I feel the love and support and the passion from the community about this disease,” said Davis.

With efforts to educate the African-American and senior community, the AABHI is a partnership between Rutgers University-Newark’s Office of University-Community Partnerships and the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience. It is also a five-year community research project that is a linkage between Rutgers and the Department of Health. The stated goal of AABHI is to understand why African Americans are at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease and offer recommendations on what can be done to help improve the community’s memory and brain health.

Diane Hill, AABHI co-director and assistant chancellor of the Office of University-Community Partnerships
Diane Hill, AABHI co-director and assistant chancellor of the Office of University-Community Partnerships. Photo Credit: Pauline Ward

“This kind of work does not happen without true partnership and true vision,” said Diane Hill, AABHI co-director and assistant chancellor of the Office of University-Community Partnerships.

Among the many community organizations at the presentation of the play on Nov. 30 included the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), an organization whose priority is to improve population health by strengthening New Jersey’s health system. Sixty-two-year-old Jose Gonzalez, program manager and supervisor of NJDOH, manages the five-year grant given to the university. He believes that community participatory research is important because it can be translated into community actions and findings.

“We need the data to lead us,” said Gonzalez. “Most research is done in a suburban environment. This is the first time research is getting done in the inner city with minorities with disadvantages.”

Gonzalez also recognized that the increase of Alzheimer’s is not just a health issue, but also a social and economic issue.

“When we bring people into the city, they have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Gonzalez. “People are eating from the dollar store, and (consuming) sugary drinks. These elements are disappearing: proper nutrition, physical activity, cognitive exercise and eight or more hours of sleep. This is a good opportunity to bring these elements back into the lives of these seniors. This day is very important.”

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills along with the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. As the disease spreads in the brain, brain connections and cells die, eventually leading to fatality.

“It is a debilitating disease,” said Derrick Green, senior advisor of Diversity, Faith, Urban and Regional Growth at the New Jersey Governor's Office. “It is a strain on the family.”

Alzheimer's disease is listed as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is the third leading cause of death for older individuals. Although there is no cure, there are ways doctors believe it can be prevented, which was discussed during the Forget Me Not intermission panel discussion.

(l-r) Mary Catherine Lundquist, program coordinator of the COPSA Institute for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, Mark Gluck, Professor of Neuroscience & AABHI Co-director and Margaret Cammarieri, Community Impact Director at the American Heart Association
(l-r) Mary Catherine Lundquist, program coordinator of the COPSA Institute for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, Mark Gluck, Professor of Neuroscience & AABHI Co-director and Margaret Cammarieri, Community Impact Director at the American Heart Association. Photo Credit: Pauline Ward

Mark Gluck, professor of neuroscience and AABHI co-director, was among the three members on the panel. He says that there are six steps people can take to minimize Alzheimer’s: exercise regularly, keep mentally active, avoid unproductive stress, get a good night’s sleep, socialize with others, and eat light and healthy. “If you do those six things, and particularly exercise and keeping mentally active, if those characterize your life, then that’s the best thing you can do to minimize Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gluck. He adds that although the disease cannot be prevented, implementing the six methods into one’s daily life will reduce the risk of getting the disease.

The other speakers on the panel included Margaret Cammarieri, director of Community Impact and the American Heart Association, and Mary Catherine Lundquist, program coordinator of the COPSA Institute for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders.

In addition to the panel, guests were able to obtain stress-relief coloring books, Alzheimer’s education materials, and healthy lunch boxes; participate in raffle drawings; and exercise in a fitness activity with fitness coordinator Lisa Charles.

For more details on AABHI, visit https://brainhealth.rutgers.edu.

 To view the photo album from the presentation, click here.