When I am an Alzheimer’s advocate, I shall wear purple…

This Friday, September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day.

What, you say? Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t just have a “national” day – it’s actually got a “world” day?

That’s right. And it should, considering that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 35 million people around the world and their families are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

If you are not one of those people, I’ll bet that you know someone who is. The toll this illness takes on our society is ubiquitous – we see it in our workplaces, homes, healthcare systems, and places of worship. We see it when our neighbor takes her mother to the doctor and has difficulty persuading her to get in the car. We feel it when our co-worker tenses up as he excuses himself to take an emergency personal call in the middle of a meeting. And we know what’s happening when our friend no longer attends the weekly coffee gathering because she can’t get away from the house for too long anymore.

(c) Alzheimer's Association
© Alzheimer’s Association

Individuals with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers and family members deserve a day when their courage, challenges and fortitude are honored instead of avoided through the lens of stigma. Likewise, researchers and scientists who are working hard to find a cure deserve a day when the dire need for research funding and participants is highlighted. If you want to be a part of this important day, here are some things you can do:

  • Tell ten people about Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on you, your family, and/or your community.
  • Write a letter to the editor explaining why World Alzheimer’s Day should receive more attention than, say, Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Sadly, many may not understand your point. But please try.)
  • Go to the Alzheimer’s Association’s TrialMatch website and search for clinical trials near you. Don’t have Alzheimer’s? You can still participate — researchers need caregivers and healthy volunteers too.
  • Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association and ask them how you can help with outreach, support, or advocacy.
  • Start fundraising for next year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s right now! (Or keep fundraising if your 2012 local event is still accepting funds!)
  • Share your story. People often don’t understand what living with Alzheimer’s is really like – tell them how it is right here.
  • Wear purple.

If your brow furrowed at the last suggestion, I understand. Assigning a color to a disease seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Yet many other diseases have established colors that society recognizes as calls to action. If Alzheimer’s is going to the get the attention it deserves, we need to work a little psychology on the masses. We need to make purple THE color of Alzheimer’s disease. That way, people can’t NOT think of Alzheimer’s when they see a purple shirt, hat, or jacket; purple hair, nails, or eye shadow; or purple profile pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Purple must become a catalyst for action.

When I first began studying gerontology, I came across a poem by Jenny Joseph called When I Am an Old Woman, and it began like this:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red had that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.

It’s a poem about being unabashedly yourself, with no apologies. It’s about making people question their assumptions about humanity, hopefully for the better. It’s about being true and unafraid.

And so this Friday, on World Alzheimer’s Day, I encourage you to make this your motto:

When I am an Alzheimer’s advocate, I shall wear purple.

Are you with me?

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