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Death Takes a Holiday

Every other Thursday, we have Trish Vradenburg as our special guest blogger covering Alzh e imer's issues. Trish is a playwright, author, television writer, and Alzheimer's disease advocate. She and her husband, George, founded UsAgainstAlzheimer's with the goal of finding a cure or treatment for Al zheimer's by the year 2020. She brings her legendary humor and wit to the devastating realities of Alzheimer's, and we're excited to have her share with us here.


Great news - no one died today from Alzheimer's... or yesterday... or this whole week... or even the whole month.  In fact, Alzheimer's must have been cured.  At least, that is what you would think if you were an obit reader.  I'm one of those.  I learned it from my Dad.  He used to say that every morning he would wake up and look at the newspaper obits.  If his name wasn't there, he'd go to work.

But each day I look and each day an over-80-year-old person dies from everything but Alzheimer's: a long illness - the most popular cause; pneumonia - a close second; unknown causes; natural causes; and my favorite - his daughter confirmed his death.  I guess she just noticed that dad wasn't real hungry.

All of these are code words for Alzheimer's:  A long illness - clearly;  Pneumonia - the end stage of Alzheimer's when the body has forgotten how to swallow;  natural causes - which Alzheimer's is not;  his daughter confirmed his death - and that's that.

How are we going to cure something that doesn't seem to exist - unless you count the 5.3 million victims of this unforgiving disease - or as their survivors call it, unknown-pneumonia-family-confirmed causes?

I think this is analogous to HIV/AIDS when it first appeared.  No one wanted to speak about it because it always led to a long, ugly death.  Similarly, no one wants to admit that their parent, wife has Alzheimer's because they want people to remember their relative as a strong, vital person - not the picture of a helpless human being with a demented mind.  It was only when the HIV/AIDS community came out of the closet about their disease -demanded to be heard - called this disease what it was - a National Emergency - that people and, ultimately, Congress had to react.  And so Congress funded a 10-year plan for scientific research to find a cure or an alternative way to stave off the disease.  And lo and behold, that's what happened.  AIDS is no longer a death sentence; it is now a manageable disease.  The big difference between us and all other diseases is that we don't have a victim to testify and bring a sense of dignity to our disease.  We have no Michael J. Fox; we have no Elizabeth Edwards.  So it is up to us to be the face of Alzheimer's.

It is time for us to come out of the closet.  It is no shame to have a relative or friend with Alzheimer's - it is only a shame not to do something about it.  Let's band together and make our loved ones who have faced this unforgiving disease stand for something meaningful.  In their name we have to rise up and fight for funding.  Maybe then Alzheimer's deaths really could take a holiday.

Photo credit: greyloch via Flickr

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