Each month, we’re featuring an advocate who engages with policymakers to ensure priorities that improve the lives of people impacted by Alzheimer’s and all other dementia remain top-of-mind in Congress.
For Mary Dysart Hartt and her husband Mike of Hampden, Maine, the fight against Alzheimer’s is all too personal. Her first experience with Alzheimer’s began when she was part of a family care team caring for her mother.
“She was a brave woman who was never afraid to forge her own path,” said Mary. “She started our family-owned business with my father over 50 years ago. My brothers and I are very proud to have carried on our parents’ dream into the third generation.”
While caring for her mother, Mary started seeing changes in her husband that reminded her startlingly like what she was seeing with her mother’s dementia.
“Mike was 58 when I started noticing that things did not seem quite right. After living on our family farm since 1977, daily tasks like running the tractor became a challenge,” said Mary. “Mike was president of his family’s trucking business and also owned a business that manufactured log homes — he was our primary breadwinner. We sold our farm where we had lived for nearly 40 years and condensed our life.”
At age 62, after first being incorrectly diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, Mike was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s by the Mass General Memory Clinic in Boston. Their lives changed significantly after the diagnosis. By age 63, he volunteered to give up driving, a freedom that he loved.
For Mary and Mike, they decided to take the advice from their doctor to heart: “don’t worry about tomorrow, enjoy today.”
“One common assumption about this disease is that life stops completely,” said Mary. “While we’ve faced unique challenges as we’ve tackled this disease, we continue to move forward with our life as best we can.”
“Thanks to our providers and the support we received at the Alzheimer’s Association Maine Chapter, we’ve begun fulfilling wishes on our ‘bucket list,’ said Mary. “Lucky for Mike, most of them are fishing adventures. After more than 40 years of marriage, I finally took ‘Fly Fishing 101’ so we could spend more time together.”
In 2016, Mary and Mike became involved with Alzheimer’s advocacy. Mary has served as the AIM ambassador for Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Since 2023, Mary and Mike have also been members of the AIM Leadership Society, the philanthropic foundation of AIM.
During the 2019 AIM Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C., Mary testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Sharing her story, Mary thanked the committee for their work on critical legislation such as the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, the Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act and the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act, which had just been signed into law in 2018. Sen. Collins championed the bipartisan BOLD Act, which created a public health infrastructure to fight Alzheimer’s and other dementia across the nation. Each year, advocates like Mary and Mike have called on their members of Congress to support funding for this critical legislation.
Concluding her testimony, Mary asked the committee to continue to make Alzheimer’s and dementia research a priority and to work together to pass legislation that will help other families like hers receive the support and services they need and deserve.
“We must remain a strong and resilient voice for those who may have lost theirs,” said Mary. “My hope is that in sharing my story, others who are impacted by this disease will feel less alone and understand that with proper support, there is life after diagnosis.”