Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there have been more articles about Alzheimer’s research and awareness in the past few months than ever before. Maybe it’s always been in the headlines or maybe it’s just that I notice any headline that mentions the disease now because I am so focused on my project, which is about Alzheimer’s care. Either way, I’ve read quite a few interesting articles about research and awareness of the disease this year.
The most recent article that I read about the disease was on ESPN. com, where you might least expect to find it. Entitled “Precious Memories,” the article is an in-depth profile of former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who held a record number of wins when he retired in 1997. He led an extremely successful career, but today, Smith has Alzheimer’s, and his family fears he doesn’t remember any of it. The man who always seemed to have the sharpest memory in the family might not even know who he is.
The article is beautifully written and very well done. It tugs on your heart as you read the extremely personal story, but it also gives the important facts and statistics of the disease at the same time. With more than 5 million people living with the disease, the Smith family’s experience isn’t uncommon. What makes it such an important story, however, is that it is about a prominent sports figure, which means that it will more than likely reach a much more diverse group of people than most other articles about Alzheimer’s can hope to do. Just as Seth Rogen is trying to raise awareness among young people, this article makes Alzheimer’s a topic of conversation for sports fans. Educating more people about this disease is an important step in raising funding for research.
According to an article in USA Today, the National Institutes of Health spends less money on Alzheimer’s research than it does on HIV/AIDS, even though the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is far greater. It is one of the most underfunded diseases, yet one of the most expensive.
Why do Alzheimer’s research organizations have such a hard time raising awareness and funding for this disease that still doesn’t have a cure? Well, there are a number of reasons, one of them being the idea that it is someone else’s problem until it directly affects you or your family. Another reason is the stigma that follows Alzheimer’s, and it has been very difficult to shake. Dr. Stan Goldberg, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University, says that there is a need for acceptance before awareness will hold any value.
“I would guess that before breast cancer funding dramatically increased, it was proceeded by a changed view society—and men in particular—had of women with breast cancer. I think before research funding for Alzheimer’s can substantially increase, society needs to see the person with Alzheimer’s as someone who lives with a dreadful illness, rather than someone who is the illness, with all of the stereotypes that our culture attaches to it.”
It’s going to take more people like Dean Smith’s family sharing their personal stories for people to begin to understand the affects this disease can have. I hope that reading their story will help others to find confidence in sharing their own. For those that haven’t been personally affected by Alzheimer’s, I believe hearing these stories will help them to truly realize the importance of finding a cure.