Photos courtesy Keep Memory Alive

When Larry Ruvo founded Keep Memory Alive (KMA) in 2009, he simply wanted to honor the memory of his father, Lou Ruvo, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, by helping others who have the disease. It is possible that in his wildest dreams he never could have imagined that this organization would serve hundreds of thousands, build an award-winning building and support extensive research on Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases.

He might also not have imagined how his own industry—that of hospitality—would play such a far-reaching role in supporting the organization’s goals throughout the years.

Hospitality’s Contribution to KMA

According to Anna Robins, senior director for KMA, “It was really born out of hospitality. We immediately started doing events and fundraising. We partnered from the beginning with different chefs like Wolfgang Puck, creating intimate dining experiences. Our winemaker partner has supported us through this whole mission!”

The organization is known for its Power of Love® gala that promises an evening of spectacular food and drink, and amazing entertainment! Such notables as Neil Diamond, Paula Abdul, Tony Bennett, Frank Marino, Andrea Bocelli and others have graced the gala stage. Many of them have dealt with Alzheimer’s on a personal basis in their own families. 

One of the organization’s fundraisers, Month of Memories, is coming up in November. It dovetails with two national occasions: National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month.

“Month of Memories is a great way for us to build community partners throughout Las Vegas,” said Robins. “It’s not just a way to raise money, it helps us spread the message of what’s happening in Las Vegas. This is about reaching a greater audience to share the services we have available and what’s going on in our building.”

Restaurants and retailers can participate by donating a small percentage of the cost of specialty cocktails, smoothies, coffees or other items, or create their own unique promotion or activation. It’s a good way to give since KMA’s in-person fundraising events are on hiatus. 

But the question becomes, “What do the millions of dollars, raised by KMA over the years, actually pay for and support?

Support for Patients and Caregivers

Initially, the fundraising supported research initiatives and that is still where much of the money is currently spent. But then the idea of actually grounding the organization with a building became a reality, and the concept of providing services for Alzheimer’s patients and their families began to take shape and grew into Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for
Brain Health.

Today, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is a word-class facility dedicated to the expert diagnosis, research, treatment and education of Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases, providing an astounding number of free support services for patients and their caregivers. 

“Our campus here at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is very unique,” said Robins. “We have a different approach. We don’t just treat a patient and a disease. We really wrap our arms around the entire family and support that family through their journey with these diseases.”

At the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, you’ll find “Unleashing the Inner Van Gogh” art therapy classes and “Touching the Chord of Memory” music therapy classes. Social workers hold weekly support sessions for patients and caregivers spanning the many different memory-related diseases treated and studied at the center. 

And because memory-related diseases aren’t restricted to any one socio-economic level, there are even social workers who help with issues such as respite care, food stamps or transportation. 

Before the onset of COVID-19, many patients were at the center several days a week with their caregivers, not to see their physician, but to partake in a class or activity. Larry Ruvo tells the story of being on an elevator at the center with a very young man, perhaps in his 20s, and his father. The young man asked if he was Mr. Ruvo and went on to say in so many words, “I just want to thank you, because I have MS. My dad and I come to this building every week, not to just see my doctor, but we come for therapy and physical therapy. Thank you for creating this building so people like me have a place to go.”

Many of the comments about the center include, “This place is our life.” “I don’t know how I would survive this without being able to come here.” “We’ve found friends here.”

 

Jim Loane at home

When Alzheimer’s or any other memory-related disease comes into a family, the lives of that family gets smaller, and things they once enjoyed are no longer an option. Linda Loane is the single caregiver for her husband Jim, who has Lewy Body Dementia. She describes it this way:

“We have always enjoyed going to dinner at one of the casinos. But all of that noise and the lights and trying to hear people…as your loved one diminishes, so does your ability to have that sociability. The people at the center have become my husband’s friends. When waiting for the next song to be played in music therapy, everyone starts joking with each other. These people are his friends and he’s just happy to be together (with them).”

Loane has also found friends of her own in the caregiver support sessions that she calls and texts back and forth with. These people know exactly what she is going through and have provided untold amounts of support and care.

The amazing thing is that all of these support opportunities are free to the patients and their families thanks to funds raised by KMA.

 

Marwan Sabbagh, MD

Research

Research has always been part of the mission of KMA, but with the new building and the association with the Cleveland Clinic, the research grew in scope and vision.

Dr. Marwan Sabbagh is the director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, having come to the Las Vegas facility in May of 2018. According to an article in the Review-Journal (March 4, 2018), Larry Ruvo said he was chosen out of a field of 10 candidates because the others, “didn’t have the excitement, didn’t have the dream to do more.”

Dr. Sabbagh still has that energy and drive. “I'm excited about a lot of things going on in our center,” he said. “I could talk about it for the whole day. I'm one of those people who can't wait to go to work every day because I know exciting, important and consequential things are happening here in Las Vegas at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.”

Like the fact that the center got a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study disparities of people with dementia in rural Nevada. This includes determining if people in rural areas are at more or less risk, and what factors may be contributing to their risk levels for dementia. The center has selected rural communities where it already has relationships and will essentially have pop-up clinics so they can assess people in their own areas. Long term, the researchers will look at virtual options for doing assessments and possibly even treatments and physician visits. 

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was one of the first places to study aducanumab, a drug that has a good chance of being FDA-approved for the treatment of early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The center was also one of the very first sites testing to see whether blood tests can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. This may become an accepted method thanks, in part, to the center. 

The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is a world-renowned test center for other drugs and technologies, but it is also doing research on its own. It recently received another NIH grant to study a cancer drug to reduce the inflammation in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease that is undergoing a clinical trial right now. It is also testing a new technology, a PET scan with a twist, using a different kind of agent that can look at different markers.

In 2020, on June 18, the Center launched a major Alzheimer’s prevention program specifically for women: The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic. It is the first of its kind in the country and was developed in conjunction with Maria Shriver’s organization, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. There were no doors to open, but success is in the number of women who have gone online and expressed interest and support.

In the past 12 years, the center has had more than 200,000 patient visits, with people coming in from 43 states and seven countries. It is considered to be one of the top memory-related research clinics in the world. All of the 5.8 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s or other memory-related diseases and 10-plus million caregivers are benefitting from the work being done at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“We want to be in the center of innovation,” said Dr. Sabbagh. “We want to lead the charge, not be simply an observer of it.”

Restaurants or retailers interested in participating in Month of Memories can visit KeepMemoryAlive.org, or call 702-263-9797. 

Take a look at your favorite retailors and brands contributing to Month of Memories in November and help us make November a Month to Remember!