President Reagan was an early advocate for Alzheimer's disease, helping to raise public awareness about the disease with the first proclamation of National Alzheimer's Disease Month in November 1983. Eleven years later, he publicly announced his own diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in a poignant letter to the American people. To date, he is the most public figure to disclose an Alzheimer's diagnosis.
His well-documented deterioration and ultimate death from Alzheimer's shines a bright light on the devastating human toll of this disease for the Americans who live with it and those who care for them.
DESPITE THESE efforts and those of powerful advocates such as Maria Shriver, Sandra Day O'Connor and David Hyde Pierce, a grave stigma still surrounds Alzheimer's disease. Stigma is fear. Stigma is prejudice. And stigma is contagious.
Alzheimer's is the only one of the top 10 causes of death for which we have no method to prevent, cure or slow its progression. Federal Alzheimer's research is woefully underfunded, inhibiting us from making the progress that has been achieved against other major diseases. In fact, death rates from Alzheimer's are skyrocketing while death rates from other diseases, such as heart disease, HIV/AIDS and certain cancers are plummeting. Unlike these other diseases, there are no survivors.
But we do have champions. Today, thousands of people diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's are using their powerful voices to break down the stigma and pave a better path for those who follow.
WE MUST FOLLOW their lead. It is time to speak up! We must use our voices to change the course of Alzheimer's disease. Travel with us to Atlanta on Tuesday, March 15. Join with us at the Augusta Region Annual Education Conference on Saturday, March 12. Help us raise the funds for programs and services in our community by attending the Augusta West Rotary Club's Taste of Something Wild benefiting the Alzheimer's Association Feb. 26, and Hope Uncorked: Night to Remember on April 15th. Begin forming your team now for the Nov. 5 Walk to End Alzheimer's.
Call (706) 731-9060 or visit our website -- www.alz.org/georgia -- to learn about Alzheimer's and how you can make a difference.
Ronald Reagan played the part of George Gipp in the film Knute Rockne: All American. The screenplay has the line, "Rock, sometimes when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper."
Together we can be the voice and still win one for the Gipper!
(The writer is program and services director for the Alzheimer's Association's Georgia Chapter, Augusta Region.)