An estate gift to change the story for Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Haakon Nygaard and Irene Graham
Dr. Haakon Nygaard (L) with the late Irene Graham (R)
at UBC’s Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health in 2018

When Irene Graham’s husband, Jock, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she was told the devastating news — there was no treatment.

“And so you absolutely have no hope,” Irene recalled.

She spent the next few years watching the intelligent, witty man she’d married slowly disappear. After Jock passed away, Irene decided she wanted to help change the story for patients with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. She created the Jock and Irene Graham Brain Research Endowment Fund at UBC.

“I wanted our estate to count,” said Irene. “My gifts, combined with other gifts, will play a role in this important research. What greater honour can you give a victim of brain disease than to leave money for research into finding the cause of their disease — or a cure?”

For Dr. Haakon Nygaard, director of the Clinic for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders (CARD) at UBC, Alzheimer’s and dementia research need to catch up — and support from people like Irene can make a big difference.

“I would say philanthropy in general, and certainly Irene’s contributions over the years, are critical. We wouldn’t have been able to do a fraction of what we’re doing without her support,” says Dr. Nygaard. “If you compare dementia research and how many drugs that we test every year, compared to cancer, we’re very far behind. I think that partly explains why we don’t currently have more effective treatments.”

When Irene passed away in early 2019, per her wishes, the proceeds of her estate were also directed to Alzheimer’s research at UBC, which today brings together experts in the field for training, research, and clinical care.

“Groundbreaking research on the effects of lifestyle interventions has already been conducted at UBC and elsewhere,” says Dr. Nygaard. “Our goal is to integrate and test these interventions on a large-scale. There are several modifiable lifestyle factors that, if you intervene on them, we might be able to prevent up to 30% of cases of dementia. That’s a big number.”

Dr. Nygaard believes that focused giving like Irene’s is crucial to research and brings brain disease sufferers and their families one step closer from hope to cure.

“I met Irene several times personally and was so impressed by her. She had such a laser focus on donating the funds that she made available every year to our cause — we’re very grateful.”