Photos from the 2022 Battle for the Brain at the Coca-Cola Roxy at The Battery. (Photos by Casey Sykes)

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common but fatal form of dementia caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain. Over 11 million unpaid people are caring for them.

The sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one that can’t be cured, prevented or slowed, it kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined and last year cost the American people $40 million an hour. While newer treatments are promising, they are stymied by the fact that the damage usually begins 20 years before there are any symptoms.

Alzheimer’s is devastating to both patients and families, who are often unable to afford costly long-term care and must tend to their loved one at home.

In 2017, two Buckhead friends, Michelle Rooks and Susan Watson, whose mothers had both been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, founded Daughters Against Alzheimer’s, a 501(C)(3), to raise money to fight back. 

Rooks’ mother, once a vibrant 5’7” teacher at the Galloway School, was diagnosed in 2010 and passed away in 2018. At her passing, she was only 5 feet tall, weighed 85 pounds and could no longer talk or even swallow. 

Watson’s mother was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the precursor to Alzheimer’s, and resides in an assisted living facility. 

“We wanted all our money to go to research,” said Rooks, who envisioned a streamlined fundraising organization with a single focus and little red tape. 

Learning that the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health, had committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2025, they chose to fund one of NIA’s 33 Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers – Emory University’s Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, where early diagnostic blood testing was being developed. 

Sponsor Lori Wagnon, left, with Founders Susan Watson and Michelle Rooks at 2022 Battle for the Brain

“We looked at everyone out there doing the work,” said Rooks. “Emory is both local and global. When we met with them, they said if we chose them, we could help decide where the money goes.”

Another deciding factor was that both their mothers had been treated at Emory.

“They’re our local backyard heroes,” said Rooks.

They decided to fund early diagnostics so the 50 million Americans who have the pathology but haven’t been diagnosed might receive treatment before it’s too late. They committed to raise $10 million by the NIA’s deadline of 2025. 

Both were experienced organizers and fundraisers. Rooks had led a “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” corporate team that became the third highest fundraiser in the country, and Watson had been on the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Committee’s bid team. Finding sponsors would be less of a challenge than finding a signature fundraising event that would convey the hope and joy they felt the research would someday provide.

They settled on a concept that’s the opposite of sad and solemn – “Battle for the Brain” – modeled after the popular lip TV show “Lip Sync Battle,” in which celebrities compete by lip-syncing famous pop songs. 

The 6th annual Battle for the Brain on Feb. 2 will showcase 11 costumed corporate teams lip-syncing and dancing to high-powered music, aided by professional choreographers and a Broadway producer, on the main stage at the Coca-Cola Roxy at The Battery Atlanta. 

Each team has a fundraising goal of $100,000, which they have been raising since September. The rest will come from live voting both at the event and through a livestream at a dollar a vote. The team with the highest total raised is the People’s Choice winner. Judges will pick a winner based on performance. The event will also include a live auction and an after-party with the performers. 

If you watch the highlights video, you’ll think you’re seeing Kiss, Queen or ABBA, but you’re really seeing employees of some of Atlanta’s most respected companies, including Delta, Morgan Stanley, Miller Zell, and even the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders.

So far, Battle for the Brain has raised $2.8 million toward its $10 million goal. With their focus on early diagnostics, their timing couldn’t be better because the FDA has just approved Lecanemab (Leqembi™) for the treatment of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the early stage of Alzheimer’s. 

For information and tickets, go to

Left to right, Emcees Tribble Reese and Kelsey Wingert with Founders Michelle Rooks and Susan Watson at the 2022 Battle for the Brain.

Carol Niemi

Regular contributor Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant and writes about people making a difference in our little corner of the world. If you know someone "worth knowing," email her at