ALLENTOWN – Ryan Blaney cherishes the memories he has of his grandfather, Lou Blaney.
A decade has passed since Lou died after suffering a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
And with the 11th edition of the Lou Blaney Memorial sprint car and dirt modified race hitting Sharon Speedway in Ohio on July 6, Ryan Blaney is eyeing to do more to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series, visited Lehigh Valley Hospital’s 17th Street and Cedar Crest branches on Wednesday in conjunction with his Ryan Blaney Family Foundation, which launched within the past three months and focuses heavily on bettering the knowledge, care and support of those suffering from the most common cause of dementia.
“My grandfather had (Alzheimer’s) and it’s a personal thing and our family has always been pretty close to it,” said Blaney, who earned his first Cup win at Pocono Raceway in 2017. “It was a rough deal to go through. It’s a rough deal to watch that person go through that. It was a rough deal to watch my dad and my grandmother kind of really take a toll on them from it.”
Blaney was 10 when his grandfather was diagnosed and 15 when he passed.
Now 25 and driving for Team Penske, one of the premier race teams at the Cup level, Blaney realized he had an opportunity to help people and families in similar situations to those his experienced.
“Ever since we announced this foundation and what we do, it’s unreal the amount of people that I’ve met that come up to me and say that, ‘my (relative) had Alzheimer’s and passed away from it or are currently living with it,’” Blaney said. “And it’s shocking how many people I’ve met through that. And it really is eye-opening to realize how many people it involves, how many people are suffering from this deal, the families or the person themselves.
“And then what frightens you even more is to realize how little is being done about it. We don’t know much about it.”
The Fleming Memory Center, which opened in 2015 at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s 17th Street location, welcomed Blaney and shared with him a presentation, explaining how much effort researchers and doctors are putting into the care for patients as well as the support of their families.
“I thought it was great to not only learn about the research they’re putting in and the help they’re giving people who have this disease,” Blaney said, “but the amount of time it seems like they’re putting in of training volunteers or family members who are caring for the people with the disease of how to change your mindset up to make these people feel comfortable, how to relax them and how to go about it.”
Dr. Catherine Gruer, who works primarily in geriatrics, explained what the building and its programs have to offer patients in Allentown.