Alzheimer's Association Brain Bus. CONTRIBUTED

Alzheimer’s Association’s Brain Bus made its way to the Florida Keys this week to help local families whose loved ones are facing Alzheimer’s and other dementia. The bus is journeying throughout the island chain to help families navigate new diagnosis and access local resources. 

Roughly 580,000 residents in Florida are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In Monroe County, more than 11% of adults over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unique to Florida, the Brain Bus program travels the state providing dementia education and resources to underserved communities. Those stopping by the bus are receiving everything from the 10 warning signs and symptoms to the MIND Diet, or Mediterranean Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Developed by Rush University Medical Center, researchers say it can reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Those following the diet strictly reduce the risk by 53%. Foods include green leafy vegetables, berries, olive oil, wine, beans, whole grains, poultry and fish. 

Rob Harris, Brain Bus driver and program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, stands outside the bus during a stop in Key Largo on June 13. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

“There are so many people battling Alzheimer’s and dementia right here in Florida, but many of them do not have easy access to educational programming or support,” said Rob Harris, Brain Bus driver and program manager for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Harris, who’s been with the Alzheimer’s Association for six years, said the Brain Bus allows people to stop by, sit inside a comfy RV and talk. 

“I had one person whose mom moved here from Ohio, and they noticed signs,” he said.

The Alzheimer’s Association Brain Bus, in partnership with Monroe County Coalition, made its first visit in Key Largo on June 14. The bus will drive to the Southernmost City en route to Frederick Douglass Gym, 111 Oliveria St., Key West, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14 and Key West Housing Authority, 1400 Kennedy Drive A, Key West from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15. 

The bus will head to Bernstein Park, 6751, Fifth St., Stock Island on Thursday, June 16 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and then to Marathon Community Park from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. 

Program staff will be available to help families navigate a new diagnosis, access local resources and answer questions.

For questions, residents can call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900. Alzheimer’s Association’s trained dementia specialists can offer support, information, referrals and care consultations. They’re also able to speak with constituents in more than 200 different languages. 

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.