“The global prevalence of dementia is estimated to be as high as 24 million, and is predicted to double every 20 years…. Alzheimer disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia…”

This passage from a 2011 journal article, written by Dr. Richard Mayeux and coauthors, highlights the significant challenge posed by Alzheimer’s disease. Mayeux, who has devoted his career to understanding the mechanisms of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, will speak as part of a program on medical advances sponsored by the Partnership 2Gether Medical Task Force of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, set to take place on June 6 and 10.

The June 6 seminar, on stroke prevention and treatment, features Dr. Daniel Walzman, chief of neurosurgery at Hackensack Medical Center. Mayeux will speak on Alzheimer’s disease at the June 10 seminar. Both seminars also will feature three visiting doctors from Western Galilee Hospital in Israel: neurologists Dr. Olga Azrilin and Dr. Bella Gross and Dr. Azmon Tsur, head of the rehabilitation department.

According to JFNNJ’s website, Partnership 2Gether (formerly Partnership 2000) was established in 1994 to link “Jewish communities in the diaspora with those in Israel.” The goal is to build “living bridges among these communities, by sharing ideas, strengths, challenges and models of success.” Under those guidelines, the Jewish communities of northern New Jersey were linked with the Israeli coastal city of Nahariya and its regional medical center, Western Galilee Hospital.

“The idea is to have people-to-people connections,” said Avinoam Segal-Elad, who is the director of federation’s Center for Israel Engagement and its community shaliach, or emissary. Segal-Elad explained that Partnership 2Gether has three foci. The educational task force establishes twinning relationships between schools in Nahariya and northern New Jersey, and brings together teachers and students from those schools. The community task force brings together different professional delegations from the two areas. Examples of such programs have included police officers from both areas discussing advances in security, and meetings among local and Israeli professional and amateur artists. The third focus, the medical task force, links the medical community of Western Galilee Hospital with medical professionals in hospitals in northern New Jersey.

“A number of years ago our medical task force introduced bloodless medicine into Nahariya, and now all Israel is using it,” said Martha Cohen of Fort Lee, chair of Partnership 2Gether. “I feel so gratified to be able to do the work of Partnership 2Gether, with lay leaders like Dr. Deane Penn, Susan Penn, and Barbara Gononsky,” she said, referring to the volunteers who chair the medical task force, the community task force, and the education task force, respectively. “We work hard like it’s another job, but it reaps wonderful rewards.” Barbara Gononsky of Teaneck and the Penns, who live in Tenafly, have volunteered their services for years to promote the goals of the Partnership program.

Cohen said that the upcoming programs will focus on “what you can do to prevent stroke” or minimize damage if stroke occurs, and on the development of new tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s. “We want to make people aware of it; it hits to the heart of the community, whether you are a caregiver or affected by it,” she said. She added, “And who in the community doesn’t know someone who is a victim of stroke or is worried about stroke?”

Cohen’s volunteer work for Partnership 2Gether dovetails well with her professional career. A former television executive producer, she now directs the Strategic Communication Center, working on a “social media campaign to make Israelis relevant to Americans,” she said.

“There was a research study two years ago by the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations], about Americans’ view of Israel,” Cohen continued. “They decided there was a need for strategic communications system. The study showed that Americans are supportive of the State of Israel, but really don’t know much about Israel or Israelis and don’t see Israel as relevant to them. They think it’s an ultra-religious place that doesn’t respect other lifestyles… We’re getting the information out there that they’ll see [Israel] is relevant to them.”

Dr. Deane Penn, a gastroenterologist, said that Partnership 2Gether arranges for Israeli doctors to visit American medical centers and clinics. “It is an opportunity for Israeli doctors to meet researchers and learn about new technologies,” he said. He recalled an earlier program where American doctors traveled to Israel and learned the latest developments in emergency medicine. “And they learned bloodless medicine from us,” Penn said. The three Israeli physicians in the June program have been scheduled to visit Hackensack Medical Center, Holy Name Medical Center, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and the Adler Aphasia Center.

Talking about the June 6 panel on stroke treatment, Penn said, “In the past stroke was treated by staying home. There was not much they could do. In the last couple of years, if there are any signs – early symptoms of stroke – call the doctor and go to the hospital immediately.” He said that when a patient comes in with a possible stroke, doctors may do a CAT scan to determine if there is bleeding into the brain due to an aneurysm. “If the patient did not bleed into the brain, they can use a clot buster drug to prevent completion of the stroke,” Penn said. “It has to be done within 2 to 3 hours.”

He added that “the speaker, Dr. Walzman, a neurosurgeon who trained in radiology, uses a clot buster drug within 2-3 hours… He’s proficient in vascular radiology of the brain.”

“Dr. Richard Mayeux did extensive work on the genetic findings for Alzheimer’s,” Penn said. “Finding genes is much cheaper now. He is studying people and their genes and habits” to learn about longevity.

Along with the programs on June 6 and 10, which are free and open to the public, Deane Penn will host a third one, open by invitation only, for clinicians. That session will discuss neurological advances in Alzheimer’s. Penn said that Dr. Hillel Grossman, a neurologist from Mount Sinai Medical Center, will discuss “an antibody that could be used intravenously in an MRI test… that could allow for early detection of [Alzheimer’s].”

Penn said that the FDA has recently approved this test. “You don’t know if a patient who starts to lose cognitive functions is having small strokes and it’s a vascular disease, or if it’s due to Alzheimer’s and [the brain] has amyloid material.”

“One of the reasons I like the Partnership 2Gether program so much is because it’s a way to connect to Israel, not through disasters, not through conflict and not through war, but through life and culture and education and medicine,” Segal-Elad said.

“I find that beautiful, especially for people who don’t know much about Israel. Nahariya has suffered. It’s on the border. But our day-to-day connection with them is through life.”

FYI
What: Seminar on stroke prevention

When: June 6, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Where: Jewish Home at Rockleigh, 10 Link Drive, Rockleigh

What: Seminar on research on Alzheimer’s disease

When: June 10, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly

Sponsored by: The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Adler Aphasia Center, “Jewish Home Family” at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.