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Women leading fight to end Alzheimer's in WNY


Mon, Feb 28th 2022 04:20 pm

Guest Editorial by the Alzheimer’s Association

Across Western New York, the fight to end Alzheimer’s and provide care and support for all impacted by dementia is being led by women.

March is Women's History Month and, as we commemorate the study and celebration of the vital role of women in American history, we note the significant impact Alzheimer’s disease has on women.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual Facts and Figures Report, of the more than 6 million Americans over age 65 living with this fatal disease, the majority – two-thirds – are women. A woman's estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer's at age 65 is 1 in 5. And women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's during the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer.

The report also finds that, not only are women more likely to develop dementia, they are also more likely to be the primary caregivers to a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease – often while they continue to work.

The Alzheimer’s Association is leading the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. And in the Buffalo-Niagara region, the association’s Western New York chapter is the driving force behind those efforts.

The Amherst-based chapter is headed by Executive Director Jill Horner of Clarence, who oversees efforts to ensure the programs and services offered by the association are available in every town, village and city in WNY. She has been instrumental in securing state grants to partner with Office for the Aging sites in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties so that underserved, rural and minority communities have equal access to the association’s vital resources.

“We are grateful for the New York State Health Department for their continued commitment to this vulnerable population, and their care partners to ensure they have the care and support they need as they face the daunting challenge of dementia,” she said. Women also oversee the aging offices with whom the chapter partners. “We simply could not fulfill our mission without the dedication and determination of our OFA partners who help empower our mission.”

The Allegany County OFA is led by Anita Mattison. She is a Richburg native who worked in the office for 14 years as coordinator of services. Mattison was named director the agency in 2019. For additional information, visit https://www.alleganyco.com/departments/office-for-the-aging/.

In Cattaraugus County, the Department of the Aging is overseen by Cathy McKay. She holds degrees in psychology and community and human services, and has worked extensively in the health and human service fields in both the private and public sectors. McKay sits on several boards, including United Way of Cattaraugus County and the Association on Aging in NYS, and co-chairs the Cattaraugus County Healthy Livable Communities Consortium. She sits on several committees and focus groups tasked with improving health equity and access, and has been a key partner in securing multiple grants for work in the areas of social determinants of health, caregiving services and aging/disability programming. Learn more about the Department of the Aging at https://www.cattco.org/aging.

Dr. Mary Ann Spanos is the office director in Chautauqua County. She completed her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1986 and her doctorate at Boston University in 2005. In 2019, she led the effort to make Chautauqua the first county in New York to join the Dementia Friendly America movement. Spanos has served on both state and national aging boards and currently serves as president of the board of directors for USAging that oversees Dementia Friends USA and Dementia Friendly America. She also serves on the Milken Institute, Alliance to Improve Dementia Care. Spanos resides in Bemus Point. More information about the county OFA is available online at https://chqgov.com/office-aging/Office-for-the-Aging.

The Genesee County OFA is led by Diana Fox. She has worked in human services for 30 years, and has been at the helm of the Batavia-based OFA since January 2020. Fox has a Master of Social Work degree from UB and is a licensed clinical social worker. As director, she said she would like to be able to enhance and strengthen the programs and services that are offered at the OFA.

“It is important that, as our population grows older, we are able to enjoy a high quality of life that keeps us healthy, active, engaged and involved in our community,” Fox said. “I want to be a part of making community resources available for all of us, so that we have choices and options for how we live our lives.” For additional information, visit https://www.co.genesee.ny.us/departments/office_for_the_aging/index.php.

Darlene DiCarlo of Lockport was named director of the Niagara County OFA in 2018. Her office coordinates community services, as well as plans, develops and administers needed programs for all persons aged 60 and older. To learn more, visit https://www.niagaracounty.com/aging/.

In Orleans County, Melissa Blanar has directed the agency for the last 10 of the 16 years she has been a part of the OFA team. She is a SUNY Brockport graduate with a degree in business administration and a concentration in management. Blanar received the Leadership Orleans Alumni of the Year Award in 2020 for her dedication to older adults and serving the community during the pandemic.

“Assisting older adults and helping maintain their independence to remain at home is a rewarding job,” Blanar said. “And I have an amazing staff that is dedicated to helping older adults in Orleans County.” Additional information about the Orleans office can be found at https://orleanscountyny.com/departments/office_for_the_aging/index.php.

Attica resident Andrea Aldinger heads up the aging services office in Wyoming County. She is a graduate of Leadership Genesee and Leadership Wyoming. Aldinger is also a member of the Community Health Foundations Health Leadership Fellow Program. Her community impact includes work as part of the regional advisory taskforce for the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. She is the board chair for the Foundation for Community Care of Western New York (Homecare & Hospice) and a corporate board member. To learn more about the Wyoming County OFA, visit https://www.wyomingco.net/328/Office-for-the-Aging.

The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a free 24/7 helpline to assist with questions and concerns about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. The service is available at 800-272-3900. Online resources can be found at https://www.alz.org/.

To view the report, visit https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures.

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