GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Rolf Lulloff, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Green Bay, is preparing for his fifth Boston Marathon. A seasoned runner, these 26.2 miles will be special, even if they are his slowest: the run is dedicated to his late wife, Ann, who passed away from a 45-year-battle with Parkinson's disease last year.
"45 years with that disease is a long, long time. We had a high quality of life," Dr. Lulloff said. "Three children. Eight grandchildren. Traveled, did lots of things, and we learned how we could make bad days better."
Ann's first symptom of Parkinson's disease was losing her sense of smell at 36 years old. After taking care of her for decades, Lulloff founded the Brain Center with five other doctors personally invested in neurodegenerative diseases in order to spread awareness and educate people on brain health.
Lulloff first ran the Boston Marathon at age 32 in 1974. He says he ran his best one at age 36 in 1978, and ended up doubling that time exactly when he was 72 years old for the most recent Boston Marathon he ran in 2013.
"I always liked to run," Lulloff said. "I started running a lot more in medical school to relieve stress." Stress, Lulloff says, is a toxin like alcohol or other chemical poisons that are bad for brain health.
Lulloff hopes his race inspires people to consciously consider their brain health and the tangential connection to physical health through factors like a healthy diet and regular movement.
"Is running for everybody? No. But taking care of your life is, and knowing yourself is," Lulloff said. "If you keep active, that is doing a lot for your overall health, but especially your brain health ... It's easier to sit and watch television than get up and walk around the block. We can all find excuses to do things. The problem is that there are nasty diseases that if we will sneak up on us."
"That's the point we're trying to make so people do things more proactively," executive director Chris Vanden Hoogan said. "We want people to say 'I'm doing this for my body, but wow, what benefits I'm having for my brain.'"
"Your brain is your personality, your unique self," Vanden Hoogan said. "It controls your actions, your reactions, your memories, your special conversations with people, your mood, your sense of humor. So why wouldn't you want to pour some love into taking care of that part of your body?"
Studies show that the burden on neurodegenerative disorders continues to increase as the aging population grows in the United States. Baby boomers are now between ages 65 and 76 years old, and according to the Alzheimer's Association, 11.3% of Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer's dementia at the time of publication. Additionally, the Parkinson's Foundation says that approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease annually.
"It's genetic," Lulloff explains. "You can't change your genes, but you can change how you live to deal with those things."
To continue providing free education and coaching services for families, the Brain Center is trying to raise $126,200. At the time of publication, they are more than 80% of the way to their goal. You can donate here