Maria Shriver, First Lady of California, wrote in a blog on www.huffingpost.com:
“I wrote a book called, What's Happening to Grandpa? At the time, I said I wrote it to help my children understand what was happening. In truth, I wrote it to explain Alzheimer's to myself. But when I wanted to turn it into a television special -- to shine some light on this subject -- no one was interested. I was told Alzheimer's wasn't big enough -- it was just "an old person's disease."
It is time for this attention. Because someone is diagnosed in this country with Alzheimer's every 70 seconds. And fully one third of Americans have a direct experience with this disease. The epidemic is growing.”
What a contrast with the 24-hour news cycle about the current flu which to date has affected a few thousand and caused (thankfully) relatively few deaths. It is also worth noting that an individual sufferer deals with flu for a matter of weeks. Decline and death from Alzheimer’s is often measured in years if not decades.
How do we make the invisible visible?
The HBO special on Alzheimer’s is a great start. Taking a cue from the current flu crisis I went to www.pandemicflu.gov. The website has a wonderful map. Visitors to the site can click on each state to see the number of flu cases reported including any deaths.
What about a site www.alzheimers.gov? Where we could click on each city to learn how many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease reside there? Of course it would be great to have this kind of visual presentation available for every disease.
As of now, most media attention about illnesses related to the aging process come from the pharmaceutical industry, i.e. advertising their drugs to treat Alzheimer’s, selling power chairs, or the like. Naturally their messages are geared toward the products they are selling. These commercials usually suggest that the viewer speak with his/her doctor about this or that condition.
Is the doctor’s office the only place for discussions? Are these subjects that only affect the individual?
No and No.