Rally to Remember has advocates imagining a hopeful future

April 23, 2012

Hundreds of dedicated Alzheimer's advocates kicked off the 2012 Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C., by gathering for the Rally to Remember, an event honoring people with Alzheimer's, their caregivers and everyone affected by the disease. Originally scheduled to take place on the west side of the U.S. Capitol, the Rally was moved indoors to the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, the Forum venue, due to inclement weather; however, the change of location did not douse the passion and enthusiasm advocates have for the cause.

Emceed by JC Hayward, news anchor for WUSA-TV in Washington, speakers included Guy Dallas, a caregiver and Alzheimer's Association Ambassador from Bella Vista, Ark;  Gee Gerke, a caregiver from Gaithersburg, Md.; and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier this year, and his wife Stephene.

Singer Shae Williams began the Rally with a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" that also served as a theme for Hayward's opening remarks. "Imagine what could be," said Hayward, who participated in National Alzheimer's Plan Act (NAPA) input sessions in the D.C. area and whose mother had Alzheimer's. "Imagine new ways to detect Alzheimer's and dementia. Imagine treatments and drugs that could delay the onset of Alzheimer's. Imagine a world without Alzheimer's. Imagine this is not an issue but a movement, unified, demanding change. We're gathered here today because we want to move from imagining these things to actually living them. We're living proof that a common purpose can and will create change."

Dallas started his remarks by calling the assembled advocates his heroes. "As a full-time caregiver, I can't thank you enough for what you do. I don't know what we'd do without you." Dallas told the story of meeting his wife, to whom he's been married for nearly 56 years. They met a birthday party when Dallas was 14 and Sue was 12; he called her a "perfect wife, a wonderful mother (and) a doting grandmother." Her Alzheimer's diagnosis eight years ago changed their lives and served as Dallas' call to action.

"When the love of your life is hit with this insidious disease," he said, "you cannot stand by and do nothing." So when asked to serve in various capacities for the cause, Dallas adopted the mantra of, "Yes, I will." He exhorted the crowd to say it with him.

"Will you join me in raising awareness of this horrible disease in our communities?"

"Yes, I will!"

Will you join me on a trip to Capitol Hill to push for full implementation of the National Alzheimer's Plan?"

"Yes, I will!"

Will you join me in advocating for the HOPE for Alzheimer's Act to get passed?"

"Yes, I will!"

"Lastly, will you join me in having a great time at the 2012 Advocacy Forum?"

"Yes, I will!"

"You're a force to be reckoned with, and I'm so proud to be among you," Dallas concluded. "Now let's go get ‘er done."

Gerke, a volunteer for the Alzheimer's Association National Capital Area Chapter, told the story of her father's battle with Alzheimer's, a struggle the family faces by emphasizing hope and maintaining a positive attitude. (The latter helped during her remarks when she reacted to an advocate's mobile phone ringtone — the "Andy Griffith Show" theme song — with good humor.)

Calling her father an optimist and a survivor, Gerke encouraged the crowd to embrace hope, even when the road seems long and hard. "Hope is powerful," she said. "It's something we can all do. We can't let hopelessness win. Each of us has the ability to change the world, even if it's simply encouraging a friend or a loved one to hold on to hope and participate in the simple act of becoming an advocate."

After Williams sang a song called "Listen," Dennis and Stephene Moore stepped to the podium. Dennis, 66, retired from Congress in January 2011 and was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's in June of that year. (Dennis' father also had Alzheimer's.) Dennis outlined what he called five important steps to deal with Alzheimer's: provide an early and formal method of diagnosis; provide a diagnostic evaluation to be part of the person's medical record; offer information about support services and resources for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers; initiate a nationwide Alzheimer's public awareness campaign; and increase Alzheimer's research funding by $2 billion a year.

"And this is coming from a fiscal conservative, Blue Dog Democrat," Dennis joked.

Stephene followed with advice for advocates when visiting with legislators on the Forum's final day. "Remember, the people you're calling on need to be educated about this disease," she said. "Make sure you take this very important message about the need for more funding. We need to make sure awareness is the key part of everything we do every day as we all continue to fight this horrid disease."

The Rally concluded with the always-moving glow stick ceremony, accompanied by Williams singing, "People Get Ready." Afterward, Stephene reflected on what she witnessed.

"I was very impressed by the emotion that came out, the very positive emotion of hope," she said, "and the fact that these people who've found themselves in situations not of their choosing are all here and have decided to make something positive out of it."

For his part, Dennis said he had been to the Forum previously, but naturally his perspective has changed.

"The last time we came, it was more of a tribute to my dad and what he went through," he said. "Now we want to do something about the problem."

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