Alzheimer's Association

The world knows it as Alzheimer's Disease.

In my family, it was called "Gramma Disease."

I saw a lady who was a pillar of her community, who'd taught first grade for forty-four years --  slowly lose everything of meaning to her. She forgot the recipes to her wickedly delicious pound cake, the names of her prized daylilies, the time to take her pills. She knew the nice young man who came to see her was well, a nice young man - but she didn't know he was her son. And perhaps just as heartbreaking, she lost her faith. Her relationship with God and Jesus Christ was lifelong and unshakable. Gramma taught Sunday School, played the organ and piano during worship service, and was a Deacon of her small Southern church. Yet in the end, it all eluded her. Toward the last months of her life, the ladies from the local Baptist church came to visit. As is the case down South, we always want to make sure someone is 'right' with God, so the woman asked my grandmother, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" Gramma thought for a moment or two and in that soft Southern drawl of hers said, "No, I don't 'spect he's been by here today". Alzheimer's had robbed my grandmother of perhaps the biggest constant in her life - her faith in God.

 

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan knew none of this when she reached out to me in 1992 to join in her then-fledgling campaign to fight Alzheimer’s Disease.  Her mother was the glamorous Rita Hayworth who had died from the decidedly UN-glamorous disease just a few years earlier. Would I serve as the chair for her upcoming Gala Dinner to raise money to fight Alzheimer’s? I’d recently left the Today Show and was thrilled to be asked! The dinner’s theme was always one of her mom’s movies and we selected “Cover Girl,” from 1994 as our inspiration. What if we reached out to all the top magazines in America and got their help in ‘re-enacting’ some of their iconic covers? The response was staggering!

 

Shirley MacClaine came and reprised her Time magazine cover. Christie Brinkley was ravishing in red – just as she was on that month’s Redbook magazine. Brooke Shields re-imagined her Bride’s magazine issue and so on. The event was a blast and a huge success for the cause: We set a new record by raising $1.5 million dollars! Over the years, the Rita Hayworth Gala has raised more than $61 million dollars for Alzheimer’s Disease research.  As the commercial goes, what it’s done for patients and families is priceless!

 

Fall of 2014 was the 31st year of the Gala and it speaks volumes that Brooke Shields is still attending and giving her support. There’s a difference between Alzheimer’s and just getting old.

 

Signs of Alzheimer's

  • Typical age-related changes

  • Poor judgment and decision making

  • Making a bad decision once in a while

  • Inability to manage a budget

  • Missing a monthly payment

  • Losing track of the date or the season

  • Forgetting which day it is and remembering later

  • Difficulty having a conversation

  • Sometimes forgetting which word to use

  • Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them

  • Losing things from time to time

 

 

If you or someone you know has Alzheimer’s or suspects it, there are resources available. Even Ronald Reagan was affected towards the end of his presidency--the NY Times recently did research on his speeches for early clues of the disease. However, your first stop should be the Alzheimer’s Association.  

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