“This insidious disease has declared war on our minds.”

A powerful, sobering statement spoken by Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Halperin at the LeadingAge Integrace Great Minds Gala earlier this week, where he was honored with the 2016 Senator William and Ellen Proxmire Award. 

This award recognizes national figures who have demonstrated leadership and positively impacted public awareness around Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent, was a co-awardee.

An outspoken advocate for Alzheimer’s research, Sandy knows first-hand the devastation this war inflicts on people with dementia and their families.

At the age of 60, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, a disease often marked by mental decline, forgetfulness, difficulty with self care, and personality changes, among many more. The progression can be slow and tedious or fast and ruthless. Regardless, a dementia diagnosis changes the course of a person’s life in an instant.

Sandy’s life did change in an instant, and what he did was remarkable. Instead of sitting on the sidelines or denying his diagnosis, he jumped headfirst into advocating for Alzheimer’s research, which has given him renewed energy and purpose. 

At the Gala, Sandy accepted his award and spoke to a crowd of more than 600 people. He was passionate and determined, yet wistful as he explained that this was likely his last public appearance. The disease has taken its toll to the point where he no longer feels comfortable speaking publicly. 

During the last few minutes of his heart felt speech, he offered us all a challenge as he held up a baton:

“We are all in a position to pass on batons during our lives. It’s time for me to do that now.  As I hold up this baton, I am physically and emotionally passing it to you. It is for each of you to vigorously carry things forward to see our highest expectations achieved. Do this together, without delay. I leave with one strong message: the baton is now in your hands.”

I humbly accept this challenge and encourage all our LeadingAge members to do the same. As fierce advocates for our country’s older adults and their families, we have a responsibility to ensure they can grow old with the dignity they deserve and the services and supports they need to thrive.

Let’s follow in Sandy’s footsteps and be outspoken advocates for our residents, clients, families, and caregivers, and for all of the issues that affect people as they age. 

Thank you Sandy for your courage and for letting us be part of your story. 

Thank you for giving us this challenge. 

The baton is now in our hands.

 

 

Watch "Sandy's Story: Fighting Alzheimer's" on CNN.