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Hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey either suffer from Alzheimer's disease or care for someone who does, and for the past two years one Garden State journalist has made it his mission to pull from his personal experience with dementia to help guide them. Now, that journalist is being honored for his work.

Tony Dearing, the director of news operations for NJ Advance Media, was honored Thursday evening by Alzheimer's New Jersey for his efforts to raise awareness of dementia in the Garden State.

Dearing, who in 1979 began his journalism career in Michigan and joined NJ.com in 2012, was awarded the group's Spirit Award for his "outstanding volunteerism in raising awareness about Alzheimer's disease," according to a press release. Dearing was honored at the group's 2018 gala in Cedar Grove.

"It's not a one-and-done thing for him," Ken Zaentz, the President and CEO of Alzheimer's New Jersey, said. "It's a commitment. He believes in what we do, he believes in how important raising public awareness in Alzheimer's disease is."

Why your best defense against memory loss is to catch it early

Dearing regularly authors a series of columns about dementia, its effects and how it can be managed.

The columns were spurred by the death of Dearing's mother, Carla Dearing, in 2014. She had struggled with frontotemporal dementia, which is less common than Alzheimer's, and Dearing said that the experience of struggling to be a caregiver for her pushed him to learn more about dementia with the hope of teaching others.

"I've always been very candid that I handled it very poorly," Dearing said. "I was in denial. I was uneducated on these issues. I did not understand what was happening."

Dearing added that his mother was heavily involved in community service, and he sees his columns as a service to others that will honor her memory.

"My mother was the model of community service," Dearing said. "I honestly feel like she sees what I'm doing and she approves."

My mission: Fend off dementia, the merciless killer that claimed my mother

Dearing has found a dedicated audience for for his columns, particularly among elderly readers who are worried about dementia's impact on their own lives.

"I've been surprised, borderline stunned, how much readership there is for this," Dearing said. "They see the threat of [Alzheimer's] as more frightening than anything that could possibly happen to them."

Over 180,000 New Jersey residents have Alzheimer's disease, and over 450,000 more are caregivers, according to Alzheimer's New Jersey.

Michael Sol Warren may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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MEGAN THOMPSON:

Hamilton points to the state’s experience with yet another social safety net program: the original “welfare to work” program promoted by President Bill Clinton in the 1990’s.

It’s called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

In Maine, to qualify for TANF a recipient must have low or no income and be caring for a child. In order to help those recipients get jobs, the state provides not only cash assistance, but also subsidized transportation and childcare. As well as personalized support and job search classes.

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