National Alzheimer's Summit

As I looked across the room at September’s Out of the Shadows dinner, I couldn’t believe how far WA2 and the Alzheimer’s cause had come. Our distinguished guests that evening included members of Congress, global business leaders, and our nation’s most influential Alzheimer’s advocates. Their presence, and shared dedication, demonstrated the progress we’ve achieved since our first Out of the Shadows dinner in 2013.

I personally identify with this change because, a decade ago, I never could have predicted my journey to today. When the disease upended my life, I was at the height of my career, with three young sons, and an engaging, high-intensity job. Then my mother developed Alzheimer’s. Anxious and confused, I struggled to manage and protect her health from hundreds of miles away. As the disease progressed, I moved her closer, took a leave of absence from work, and committed myself to caregiving, full-time. 

That experience changed the course of my life. Now, I am immersed in the inspiring work, insights, and vision of those on the frontlines of the fight against Alzheimer’s.

We have driven rapid progress with recent efforts, both at WA2 and in the wider Alzheimer’s community. In particular, during the last week of September, WA2 held convenings focused on the injustices of Alzheimer’s for women and communities of color, calling on leaders and institutions, at the highest level, to address these pressing challenges.

At the National Alzheimer’s Summit, WA2 hosted a panel, The Economic Impact of Alzheimer’s on Women and Communities of Color, which examined how the disease disproportionately drains the savings and income of women and minorities; often with devastating long-term consequences. Our panelists were Ross DeVol, Chief Research Officer at the Milken Institute; Darrell Gaskin, a Professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions; Helen Sims, Vice President at Merrill Lynch; and Dr. William Vega, Provost Professor at the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging.

They examined the issue both from a national level, where 80% of the social burden of Alzheimer’s is borne by women, and an individual level, where families often deplete their savings and even forego basic necessities to pay for care. The panel discussed strategies for coping with this burden, and formulated possible policy responses to aid affected families and communities.

Later that day, the Out of the Shadows dinner recognized those who have championed Alzheimer’s in national conversations, the private sector, and their own lives. Honorees included Eli Lilly & Co., represented by incoming CEO David Ricks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Greg O’Brien, who was recognized with the inaugural Bea Learner Valor Award for his personal battle against Alzheimer’s. First Lady Laura Bush delivered the keynote address, and First Ladies Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama declared their support for our nation’s caregivers in a unique video series.

At the Diversifying the Race for a Cure and Care convening, leaders and organizations representing diverse backgrounds shared their views on the distinct challenges of Alzheimer’s for minorities. The discussion revolved around the disparities of the disease’s impacts, and how community networks can help families to manage these impacts. The result was the first-ever community-driven plan to build awareness, understanding, and action on Alzheimer’s among minorities.

All of these events are engines for change. We are reaching milestones at a sustained pace, and I am confident that we will build on this momentum. We will develop and implement plans to help women and families struggling with the disease, and raise awareness of risk reduction strategies. We will drive scientific and therapeutic progress, including sex-based studies, while preparing the healthcare system to provide access to breakthrough treatments.

With these advances, we are generating hope. Meetings like the National Alzheimer’s Summit are establishing long-term commitments and strategies for tackling the disease, and, critically, prioritizing the needs of women and minorities.

 If we can continue this progress, we will create a future where women are spared from the gut-wrenching decisions and personal tragedy of this disease. Ten years ago, my life before Alzheimer’s ended; ten years from now, we will end Alzheimer’s.

-Jill Lesser, President, WomenAgainstAlzheimer's