Passing Down Passion: The story of a selfless grandmother and the future of Alzheimer’s Disease research

Maria Mercedes Florez

Maria Mercedes Florez

Maria Mercedes Florez was living in Cuba when her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her behind with two young children. The country had just witnessed the end of the Cuban Revolution, which placed Fidel Castro at the helm, and Mercedes Florez knew she had to get out. With one small suitcase and $50, she embarked on a journey that, thanks to two generations of powerful women, will now be commemorated in the field of Alzheimer’s Disease research.

In the Summer of 2019, Cecilia Votta, a PhD student in the University of Michigan’s clinical psychology program, and her mother, Maria Martinez, came together to celebrate the woman who made their successes possible. After a life of hard work, bravery, and kindness, Mercedes Florez, beloved grandmother to Votta and mother to Martinez, passed away this year after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. In her honor, Votta and Martinez decided to make a gift to the Michigan Center for Contextual Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease (MCCFAD) at the U-M Institute for Social Research to establish the Mercedes Florez Memorial Research Fund.

This gift to MCCFAD will provide funding for research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, with a specific focus on serving the Latinx community. Votta was inspired to initiate this gift as a result of her work with members of the MCCFAD team. She says that when her family first began to struggle with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she reached out to Laura Zahodne, one of the center’s co-directors, to obtain resources. With help from MCCFAD, Votta was able to normalize the experiences of aging and dementia, and to lead her family through necessary, albeit difficult, end-of-life conversations. She recognizes that access to this kind of aging support is not a privilege shared by all, and hopes that her gift will ultimately help others to navigate these situations, as MCCFAD helped her.

Maria Mercedes Florez and Cecilia Votta in 1995

Maria Mercedes Florez and Cecilia Votta in 1995

MCCFAD is a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University, located on the campuses of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. MCCFAD is coordinated by the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research and is funded by the National Institute on Aging. MCCFAD aims to foster and enhance innovative research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias with long term goals to advance relevant social and behavioral science research in underserved and underrepresented communities. MCCFAD also aims to diversify the research workforce dedicated to healthy aging.

To learn about ways that you can become engaged in supporting important social science research, please contact a member of our development team to discuss your interests.

To support this fund, please click here.