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Cara Ehrlich poses with her baked dessert, from her mother's pound cake recipe, to raise awareness of the estimated 5.8 million Americans still living with Alzheimer’s.
Cara Ehrlich poses with her baked dessert, from her mother's pound cake recipe, to raise awareness of the estimated 5.8 million Americans still living with Alzheimer’s. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Cara Ehrlich’s mother, Mary Gene, had always been strong willed, but lately it was getting ridiculous. Gene wouldn’t let you touch the remote control in her Florida home. No one could use her toaster.

“I just thought it was my mother on steroids,” said Ehrlich, a Cockeysville resident turned advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. They eventually discovered that Gene was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the sixth leading cause of death among American adults.

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In hindsight, Ehrlich said, “I realized that she was covering up for her disabilities, and she was angry and frustrated that this horrible thing was happening in her head.”

Another clue that something was wrong: Gene had forgotten how to make a six-ingredient pound cake she’d been baking for years. The recipe had been passed down through generations; Ehrlich said her grandmother cooked it in a wood-burning oven. You could toast it and eat it for breakfast, or offer it to guests when they came over.

“It was a good, old Alabama pound cake,” Ehrlich said.

As the disease progressed, Gene “was so angry and frustrated,” Ehrlich remembered, without a clue what was happening to her.

Gene died in 2016; toward the end of her life she was living in a locked unit at Brightview Senior Living in Mays Chapel. It was there that her daughter first got involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. A spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association had visited the retirement community and talked about some of the early warning signs for the disease. “I thought, ‘Wow, had I only known this information earlier, it would have made my life so much better.’ ”

Today, Ehrlich is working to raise awareness of the estimated 5.8 million Americans still living with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association calls the disease a “growing public health crisis in Maryland,” where 110,000 people aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with it. The actual number may be higher. According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s, like other forms of dementia, is under reported.

“It’s terrifying," Ehrlich said. "That’s why we need to fix it. We need to find a cure.” Ehrlich uses the pound cake as her calling card when visiting legislators like Congressman Dutch Rupperspberger and others to raise awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association, and lobby for support for new laws that support people living with the disease. One such law was the Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act, introduced this year in Congress, which would expand access to medical care to younger people with a diagnosis.

The cake provides a visceral connection to her mom, her mom before the disease, as if her mother is actually there with her.

Grammy Gene’s Pound Cake

2 sticks of butter

3 cups sugar

3 cups flour

6 large eggs

1/2 pint whipping cream

2 teaspoon vanilla

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Cream sugar and butter. Add 2 eggs alternately with 1 cup flour, mixing well. Add cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. Bake in greased and floured tube pan at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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