At Hadassah's recent National Convention, I had the honor of moderating a panel about gender equity in medicine, including the disparity of sex based research. Hadassah connects Jewish women and empowers them to effect change through advocacy and advancing health and well-being, and is a dedicated supporter of Israel. I grew up with these values since my mother was the first female President of a state chapter (New Jersey) of the Zionist Organization of America.
My mom headed many organizations in New Jersey, including the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the New Jersey State Ballet. She also was given credit for winning the crucial state of New Jersey for JFK. Nothing could stop my mom, but she was no match for Alzheimer's. No one is. I watched helplessly as my mother disappeared into the unforgiving chasm of Alzheimer's.
My mom always said, "You can't go through this life without making a difference." So - in its way - Alzheimer's also chose me. My divine husband and I started UsAgainstAlzheimer's. We now have key networks including African Americans, Latinos and Faith-based communities to mobilize against this disease. The one I am most aligned with is WomenAgainstAlzheimer's. We believe that when bold, passionate and committed women come together, we can force change, and in doing so, change the world.
Here are some statistics:
- Today, one in every four households has at least one family member living with this disease.
- Of the 5.4 million victims, 2/3 are women.
- Of the 15 million caregivers, 2/3 are women. Think about that. So much of what we've accomplished will be eradicated because women will have to leave the workforce and care for their mothers or fathers with this disease.
- This is a 24-7-365 commitment. And unlike some diseases, there is no remission. Alzheimer's is the ultimate "long goodbye."
Why are women more prone to this disease? Some of it is because we live longer - we are warriors - but that isn't the whole of it. That's what we need to find out. Remember, not too long ago, researchers discovered that women suffering heart attacks sometimes exhibit different manifestations than men. To learn why, all the scientists had to do was look at the experiments done on female mice, right? Oh, wait - they couldn't do that because only male mice were being used in research.
The same is true for Alzheimer's. Why? Well, female mice have those pesky hormones, so are more expensive, higher maintenance and they get angry when caged. Kind of like me. So we have one answer to scientists - UNACCEPTABLE! My apologies to Minnie Mouse, but she has to be part of the experiments. We are running out of time here.
There may be no other disease with the power of Alzheimer's to cause so much despair in those who have it, so much fear in those who believe they are at risk and such emotional and financial impact on the families who experience it. Not pretty when I can't find my keys. I have given up on remembering names. I ask my kids to wear name tags.
So we knock on doors of Congress and demand more funding for research. My role in life used to be cancelling my husband's vote at elections. No more. Now we are part of the Alzheimer's Party - asking voters as well as Congressional members - and those running against them - to sign a pledge that they will support funding for research and include the goal to stop Alzheimer's in the talking points for their campaigns. We advocate, we push hard to get the numbers we need. If you're reading this, we need your signature and voice as well. In politics, numbers count. Our slogan is "We Won't Wait!" And, let's face it, we can't afford to.