March 24, 2015
Nearly 1,000 Alzheimer’s advocates — a record number — gathered at the Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum the morning of March 24 for the event’s keynote address and general session.
Keynote speaker Dr. David Satcher, the 16th U.S. Surgeon General and director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine, was introduced by Forum Chair Verna Jones-Rodwell as a "great champion for the end of Alzheimer’s." Satcher’s remarks focused on the importance of leadership, particularly from Alzheimer’s advocates, in the fight against the disease.
"In this audience, we have health care providers and caregivers, and we even have people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease," Satcher said. "We need leadership from all of you if we’re going to make policy change. We can’t leave it to chance alone."
As a track athlete at Morehouse, Satcher equated the teamwork necessary for effective leadership to a relay race. He also stressed how vital it is to inspire younger generations to get involved in the Alzheimer’s cause.
"Leadership relies on the team working together," he said. "It depends on passing the baton. If you drop the baton, the race is over. That can happen in this struggle, too, if we’re not careful. We have to keep passing the baton. We have to keep working with young people to mobilize them to make a difference."
Satcher’s wife, Nola, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 15 years ago in her early 60s, and he serves as her primary caregiver. "She’s still beautiful and has an amazing sense of humor," he said, "but it’s still a struggle." Satcher read a poem Nola wrote that she recited at their wedding reception called "I’ve Never Been Here Before."
"It’s an amazing poem when you think about it," he said. "Every time I read it, it can be interpreted in different ways. Dealing with Alzheimer’s, we’ve never been here before. There’s some new challenge, and you have to rise to that challenge. This is a gradual experience, and we have to keep changing with it."
Satcher closed his remarks by issuing a call to action for advocates getting ready to take their message to Capitol Hill.
"Let’s get it together, let’s band together, let’s educate and motivate," he said. "Let’s get the right policies in place to deal with this problem."
Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), provided attendees with an update on research and partnerships that are accelerating progress. Hodes said that advances in imaging and breakthroughs in genetics provide a potential path toward Alzheimer’s interventions that were "unthinkable a few years ago." Coalitions focused on working together have "given us a new energy and focus on our approaches to Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s research."
"There’s never been a time that the progress of science has given us so much hope," Hodes said. "But there are still challenges ahead. We’re committed to do all we can to translate ideas and vision into action. It’s inspiring to me, and to us at NIA, to be reminded that we’re a part of this with you. We have you to thank for what we do, and we have you to answer to."
Learn more about Alzheimer's Association Advocates
Learn about advocates using their voices for change.
Become an Advocate
Join the National Alzheimer's Advocate Network.