A lasting memory: Catonsville resident keeps late grandfather in mind as head of Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Maryland Chapter

Since childhood, David McShea felt a strong connection to those with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s.

After losing his grandfather to the disease when he was 10, he felt compelled to play a role in efforts to eradicate it.


Today, McShea, 42, of Catonsville, serves as the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Maryland Chapter, which provides programs and services to those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The Greater Maryland Chapter covers all of the state’s counties except for five in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., that the National Capital Area Chapter comprises.

McShea took over the role of executive director in June following former executive director Cass Naugle, who retired after serving 34 years with the association.


Previously serving as executive director of the Maryland Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, where among his duties he oversaw National Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, a fundraiser for diabetes research, he believed he could bring his experience to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In his current role he hopes for the association to inform residents of Alzheimer’s insidious presence in the community and the organization’s efforts to support those with the progressive disease, he said.

“We are not at a point where we have had one survivor of Alzheimer’s yet, so we have a lot of work to do in order to reach that point,” he said. “Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia, but the first survivor is the step to that.”

To support those with Alzheimer’s, the association offers care consultations, support groups and a 24/7 helpline, and holds an annual regional fundraiser, Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which is one of the programs that drew him to the association.


“I’ve been involved in walk-a-thons my entire professional career in some form or fashion, from being an intern supporting a walk to leading walk-a-thons at the American Diabetes Association,” he said. “I love walks because they bring people together from all walks of life.”

McShea, his wife, Jennifer, and their three cats have lived in Catonsville for more than a decade. Originally from Parkville, he moved to Catonsville from Ellicott City.

As executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, McShea’s day-to-day work includes meeting with board members, staff and supporters to plan events and programs for residents in the community.

Since starting in his post in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, he has not been able to meet with his 16-member staff in their Timonium office, but he has been getting to know them virtually.

“We as an organization are being very cautious when it comes to COVID-19,” he said. “We typically do not meet with anyone in person, especially because the populations that we serve are people with dementia who are at higher risk for serious complications [or] death associated with COVID-19.”

Dementia is the umbrella term for a cluster of brain disorders that make it hard to remember, think clearly, make decisions or even control one’s emotions, according to WebMD. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the disorders, but there are many different types and causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease, however, is the most common form of dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s.

Dementia isn’t just about simple memory mishaps, like forgetting a name. Someone with dementia has a difficult time with at least two of: memory; communication and speech; focus and concentration; reasoning and judgment; and visual perception (can’t see the difference in colors or detect movement, or sees things that aren’t there), according to WebMD.

With COVID-19 as the backdrop, by mid-October 2020, there were at least 30,000 more deaths than forecast from Alzheimer’s and dementia in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Overall, more than 479,000 COVID-19 cases had been reported in long-term care settings and 40% of total COVID-19 deaths in the country have been long-term care residents or workers.

Some 48% of nursing home residents have dementia, as do 42% of all individuals in residential care communities, including assisted-living facilities, according to the association.

Many families also are grappling with how to care for a relative with the disease at home. It is an excruciatingly difficult task and often exhausting.

Dee Fowlkes, an Annapolis resident, has served as a full-time caregiver to her father, Otis, 92, for about four years.

Since learning of his diagnosis, she has sought support from the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Maryland Chapter on how to care for her father.

She said it means a lot to be able to access its programs and services in her community.

“Dealing with dementia is a whole other world,” she said. “If I did not have the Alzheimer’s Association as a resource, I would definitely be missing something.”

For its part, McShea said the association will continue operating virtually for the foreseeable future and plans to hold its events and programs online.

“The safety of our constituents is really the driving force for how we make decisions about our upcoming events and programs,” he said.

Kate Rooper, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter, previously worked with McShea at the American Diabetes Association and serves as his direct supervisor at the Greater Maryland Chapter.

After considering a number of candidates for the position, she said McShea rose to the top because of his leadership skills and vision for the future.

Despite the pressure of leading the staff during a pandemic, she said she admires his ability to remain diplomatic and tactful.

“David has a collaborative spirit and he has a vision for both internal and external partnership,” she said. “He is approachable and he has a great ability to work with both staff and volunteers and help see an opportunity for both growth and development for the future to better serve our mission.”

Ellen Torres, development director of the Greater Maryland Chapter, reports directly to McShea.

Since he has served as executive director, she said he has approached the job enthusiastically.

“Our former executive director was the person who built the organization,” she said. “David is the perfect leader to pick up where [she] left off and take the organization to new heights.”

Ilene Rosenthal, program director of the Greater Maryland Chapter, also reports to McShea.

Since working with him, she said she has come to admire his commitment to the cause.

“[David] is not only confident, but he has a heart,” she said. “He understands what families go through when they watch a loved one disappear in front of them.”

Growing up, McShea recalled spending time with his grandparents at their summer home on the Chesapeake Bay. He said he takes his grandfather’s memory with him to work every day.


McShea keeps a photo of the two of them on his desk to remind him of his own experience with Alzheimer’s.


“No kid should have to go through what I went through, and no child should have to go through what my dad went through,” he said. “Ultimately, we don’t want people to lose their parents or their grandparents [to Alzheimer’s].”

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