In the United States, a change of administration always brings uncertainty. With new leaders entering Congress and the White House, we at WomenAgainstAlzheimer's (WA2) know we can turn that uncertainty into opportunity. Opportunity because we know finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and alleviating its burden on families can bring us together. WA2 is committed to continuing to lead a campaign to promote women’s brain health and fight against Alzheimer’s. 2017 is a critical year in our battle to stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks by 2020.
We are confident in the progress we will make because we know that our passionate partners and advocates can change individual lives and communities, intensify medical and private-sector responses, and shape the national policy landscape. Alzheimer’s is one of the few issues that cuts across party lines, affecting women and caregivers of all ages, races, creeds, and political beliefs. This widespread impact creates a shared basis for sustained action by women leaders across America, from caregivers and community advocates to legislators and executive leaders. This is the central strength of our movement.
To guide WA2 and our supporters, we would like to highlight the pillars of a concerted, nationwide effort to combat Alzheimer’s in the year ahead. This is an overall summary – we will explore each of these in greater depth throughout the year. If we dedicate ourselves to achieving these goals, and encourage others to join us, then 2017 will be a time of advocacy, awareness, and progress towards our goal of ending Alzheimer’s by 2020.
First, we must create a groundswell of awareness for brain health and risk reduction strategies. Through one-on-one conversations, community-based outreach, and national campaigns, we can inform women of all ages about the importance of protecting their brain, beginning early and continuing throughout their lives. This will encourage women to make beneficial lifestyle changes and adopt strategies to reduce their overall risk of Alzheimer’s.
At the same time, we must work with the medical community to create a system-wide framework to promote brain health. We must educate physicians about the need for a regular “check-up from the neck up,” and make this a common practice in doctor’s offices across the US. With this practice in place, more patients will become aware of the medical need for brain health, and more physicians will be able to identify and address the early signs of cognitive impairment. Additionally, this will increase participation in the critical clinical research that will help find a cure.
We must also join together to transform every American community into a base of support for those with Alzheimer’s and their families. Our January Campaign partner, Dementia Friendly America, is driving progress in this area by working with supporters to create communities that are informed, safe, and respectful for those affected by Alzheimer’s and their care partners. By providing engagement, tools, and action plans, we can build a network of communities that address Alzheimer’s locally, and expand that network to reach every person in the US affected by this disease.
In addition, we must open and drive national conversations about the disparate impact of Alzheimer’s on women. Women are twice as likely both to die from this disease and become Alzheimer’s caregivers. Further, women lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year as a result of the disease. These disparities are unacceptable. We must focus private and public discussions on these burdens, and call for immediate solutions – solutions that include an increase in sex-based research and changes in policies that help women meet the demands of care while maintaining their careers. If successful, this advocacy will also raise rates of diagnosis, increase women’s participation in medical research, and alleviate the current burdens of the disease on patients and their caregivers.
Finally, we must spark progress at the federal level, and channel that progress into key policy changes. January marks a new year, a new Congress, and a new President, which create opportunities to shift dialogues and move Alzheimer’s to the top of Washington’s agenda. Through advocacy and engagement, we can inform law-makers and push for specific improvements, including increases in research funding, particularly for sex-based studies, enhanced support for affected individuals, and improved access to diagnosis and care.
If we commit to taking these actions, we will achieve widespread advances. Women across America must unite to promote brain health, reshape communities and the medical system, and amplify the reach of local, state, and federal advocacy. We must insist on an urgent national response that reflects the disease’s uneven and unjust impact on women. Together, we can build on our current momentum and ensure that 2017 is the year when we stepped closer to the end of Alzheimer’s.
Jill Lesser is the President of WomenAgainstAlzheimer's, a Network of UsAgainstAlzheimer's.