Keynote speaker Frank Luntz inspires, informs advocates

April 24, 2012

On Tuesday morning, a packed audience filled a ballroom during the 2012 Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum in downtown Washington, D.C., to hear keynote speaker Frank Luntz, Ph.D. — one of the nation's most honored political commentators and pollsters.

Luntz, called the "hottest pollster" in America by The Boston Globe, started his poignant and often humorous remarks by sharing his personal connection to Alzheimer's disease, expressing how its devastating nature crosses all political boundaries.

"In 1997, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and she is still alive. I knew things were getting bad when she couldn't turn on the TV to watch her son. When she couldn't recognize her son anymore," he said. "In this movement, there are no Republicans. There are no Democrats, no liberals or conservatives. We are all human beings."

Luntz launched into his remarks, offering attendees tips on how to speak to elected officials and gain support for Alzheimer's-related legislation. He focused on the power of language and word choice as a tool to secure a commitment.

"The quality of our language has deteriorated, so you have to add more to prove what you're saying," he said. "It demonstrates your commitment to what you're trying to do."

Luntz presented "21 Alzheimer's Words for the 21st Century," a list of words and phrases that he recommends using in meetings with representatives. The list ranged from emotional and expressive phrases such as "compassion for the caregiver" and "devastating and debilitating" to inspiring words like "major breakthrough" and "imagine." Luntz illustrated how each phrase could make an impact, explaining different methods of use.

"Ask [your representative] to 'imagine' their life if they were to receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Ask 'what would you do?'" Luntz said. "Then, change the dynamic of the situation. Ask them to 'imagine' a treatment, a pill that would make the diagnosis not a death sentence."

"Use positive and negative words. You want to inspire them, not just frighten them," he added. "Get them to act not out of fear, but out of hope. Don't just bring them to tears, because that paralyzes them."

Luntz took questions from the audience, often teasing attendees about their home state.

Jane Cahn, an Alzheimer's Association Zenith Society member from the Hudson Valley Chapter in New York, asked Luntz for tips on speaking with legislative aides.

"I love all this, but what if we aren't meeting with a legislator?" she asked. "Do these words resonate with an aide?"

Luntz emphasized the rules were the same with staffers. "I want to make sure that the legislative aide remembers what I said. If I can put it bluntly? Traumatize them," he said. "If I can get inside the heart and head of a important staffer, it is just as significant as meeting with a representative."

Patty Mouton, an advocate from the Orange County Chapter in California, asked what to do about "fiscally retentive legislators" who repeatedly deny requests for additional funding for Alzheimer's research.

"They say, 'We can't possibly give you any more money. Which disease do you want me to take away from to fund yours?'" Mouton said.

Luntz replied, "You're not asking them to take away from any other diseases. This is their responsibility, to provide for the common defense. This is about life itself. Say, 'If you ever, God forbid, receive that diagnosis, you'll change. But I'm giving you a chance to change now."

Luntz closed his remarks by acknowledging that his efforts and the efforts of the advocates in the room were too late to help his mom, but he still has hope for the future.

"Based on my faith in this country, based on the fact that we have 750 people in the room, I think we will be in better shape next year," he said. "I'm impressed. You should feel proud of what you've done so far."

"Tell your story. Tell it well. Don't accept no for an answer."

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