(l-r) Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, his grandmother Mary Anne O'Malley, his aunt Barbara Leahy, and his mother Mary Walsh, in photograph taken in Rosmuc, County Galway, Ireland. ( Walsh family handout )
(l-r) Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, his grandmother Mary Anne O'Malley, his aunt Barbara Leahy, and his mother Mary Walsh, in photograph taken in Rosmuc, County Galway, Ireland. ( Walsh family handout )
Walsh family

During his inaugural speech earlier this year, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he would take steps to help those afflicted with Alzheimer’s in the city of Boston, an issue that is deeply personal to him:

“And I will commit Boston to joining the Alzheimer’s Early Detection Alliance. We will release a Blueprint for Action for the city, to raise awareness through education and outreach, and to connect those with the disease to the resources they need. For me, this is personal. My grandmother and our family suffered from this disease. All of this – everything we aim to accomplish, every dream we work to realize – requires the faith and trust of the people of Boston.”

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In an interview with The Boston Globe in January of this year, Mayor Walsh shared that personal story, discussing his memories of watching his grandmother slowly decline from Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, she did not recognize Mayor Walsh.

“We would walk in the house,” Walsh told The Boston Globe, “and she would ask who we were.”

Today at Boston Medical Center, Mayor Walsh followed through his inaugural promise, announcing the launch of the Boston Alzheimer’s Initiative, a collaboration between Boston Medical Center, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the City of Boston, which will include “dementia capable” training for city employees and volunteers. The initiative will also provide more services with information and support for residents afflicted with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

“It’s a subject that means a lot to me. My grandmother suffered with Alzheimer’s, and for years my whole family suffered with her. And many other families suffer this way too,” said Mayor Walsh during his speech announcing the initiative. “We estimate that 10,000 people in the City of Boston have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. When you think of their family members, this problem touches a vast number of people. If we are going to talk about quality of life; about public health; about being a caring community: we have to reach out to those who are suffering, and we have to help answer this need.”

The city is collaborating with the Alzheimer’s Association to build a network of volunteers willing to help with respite care for residents over 55 suffering from this disease.

Mayor Walsh also announced that Boston will now be a member of the Alzheimer’s Workplace Alliance, a national Alzheimer’s Association alliance of thousands of companies who support employees, customers, and their communities with resources and tools on the disease. Walsh said 17,000 city employers will now have access to resources for employees with the disease and to promote awareness.

In September, the Boston Alzheimer’s Initiative will “color the city purple” for awareness of the disease and will have the annual Greater Boston Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease.

Finally, the Mayor announced the launch of the Boston Alzheimer’s Coalition, a collaboration between the city and the Alzheimer’s Association for concerned residents and community members to meet next year and define goals and initiatives.

Nationwide, more than 5 million Americans are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Deaths as a result of Alzheimer’s disease increased 66 percent between 2000 and 2008. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, Alzheimer’s disease is the third leading cause of death for white, non-Hispanic adults. It’s in the top-10 leading causes of death for all ethnic groups in the city.