November 29th, 2011
7 Summits for Alzheimer’s Awareness
From Ellen Rose, Director, Communications and Public Affairs, Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy
November is National Caregivers Month in the United States and also National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, as many as 36 million people worldwide are living with dementia and that number is expected to double every 20 years. The worldwide cost of dementia amounts to more than 1 percent of global GDP or $604 billion US dollars and in the United States, an estimated 10.9 million unpaid caregivers see to the daily needs of people with Alzheimer’s.
These are staggering numbers that are hard to put into perspective, but sometimes the societal and human impact of this devastating and fatal disease is better put into context through the personal experience of someone with a family member who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
I am privileged to work with one such individual – Alan Arnette, an Alzheimer’s disease advocate who has combined his passion for mountain climbing with advocacy through the 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything. The 7 Summits is a public awareness campaign that that shines a light on the need for more research, education and urgency to address Alzheimer’s (Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy is a sponsor of this campaign). We’d like to pay tribute to the millions of families touched by the disease and share with you Alan Arnette’s personal story. If you’re interested in learning more about the campaign, you can visit the website at www.climb4ad.com.
My mom seemed to change overnight, but actually her changes were so gradual we had not noticed. Mom was our families’ memory keeper. She organized family gatherings; she was the glue that held the family together. Then over breakfast one day, she politely asked me, “Now, who are you?” I smiled at her lovingly and explained that she had two sons and I was the youngest, and that her husband of almost 60 years was near death. She simply smiled, not convinced, and we continued breakfast. I shuddered inside with the realization that my mom was not aging, she was sick.
My mother, Ida Arnette, passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2009 after an eight year struggle with the disease. As I watched her go through the stages of memory loss, inability to care for herself, loss of identity and finally her life, I knew I had to do something. As a caregiver, I was very unprepared for this disease and knew little about it. Had I known then what I know now, I might have made some different choices along the journey. The experience did show me that there is an urgent need for more education on the disease, heightened awareness, improved treatments and, obviously, a cure through increased funding for research.
I have been climbing big mountains for more than 15 years and have a loyal following on my personal website where I chronicle my adventures. As I considered how I could make a meaningful impact for Alzheimer’s, I believed combining a global campaign with a huge climbing goal would be an effective way to raise awareness about the growing prevalence of the disease and the enormous personal and financial burden it places on people with the disease, their family caregivers and society.
I have often said about climbing that there are a thousand reasons to turn around and only a few to keep going. As I made slow progress ever higher toward the summit of Everest, I was not going to stop. I was going to scream from the top of the world that Alzheimer’s is a disease that takes lives and we need to find a cure. Now after eight climbs, more than 13.5 million people have heard that cry as a part of The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything campaign.