Next April, Edward Alan Miller plans to line up at the starting line to run the Boston Marathon. Miller, who chairs the gerontology department at UMass Boston, gave up running when his kids were very young but returned to the sport two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the YMCA and gym where he swam laps and worked out.
COVID is also at least partly the reason Miller has entered the marathon to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association, in honor of his mother. He watched the social isolation forced by the pandemic exacerbate his mother’s dementia. Diane “Dinny” Miller Asche, 95, passed away in August 2021.
“My mother lived a full, long life,” says Miller, who along with his identical twin is the youngest of Dinny’s five children. A ballerina, she studied with George Balanchine and Martha Graham and danced with the precursor to the American Ballet Theatre and other companies. She was resilient, surviving the death of two husbands among other challenges. She moved into an assisted living facility as her health declined. “The social isolation stemming from visitor restrictions put into place due to the pandemic proved extremely difficult for her,” Miller says. “It was heartbreaking to witness my mother’s decline, seemingly in real time, as she became increasingly uncommunicative and distressed.”
His mother’s experience intersects with Miller’s work as a professor and editor of the Journal of Aging & Social Policy. He has focused his research on long-term services and supports, including better support for older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia as well as for their families.
“My work and personal experience shows how difficult it is to help a family member navigate the long-term care system, even if you supposedly know what you’re doing. It can almost make you feel helpless. The bottom line is that we can do better. We must do better, learning from the pandemic to improve the lives of people like my mother and the families who love them,” Miller says.
Miller’s return to running began in the spring of 2020 with laps around his kids’ elementary school field. After growing his mileage and running his first few half marathons, he joined the local Melrose Running Club. The club’s Sunday morning long training runs offer water stops and the chance to run and chat with others. In late October 2022, Miller ran his first marathon in Newmarket, NH, finishing just a bit over his goal of four hours.
“I have to consciously make time for running,” Miller says of juggling training with work and family demands. “At my age, it makes me and my family feel good to know that I’m taking care of myself.”
Miller aims to raise $10,000 to support the Alzheimer’s Association in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.