DEAR READERS: Twenty-two years ago today, Oct. 22, 1980, my mother, Pauline Phillips, published a letter in her column from a woman signed "Desperate." Desperate's 60-year-old husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She asked if Mother had ever heard of it, and how other spouses of Alzheimer's patients coped with it.
Mother stated in her reply that approximately 1 million people had Alzheimer's disease, and that families and friends of Alzheimer's sufferers had banded together to form an association to provide support, develop and disseminate helpful information and to encourage much-needed research to fight the disease.
With that column, a little-known disease received international attention. Within weeks, the Alzheimer's Association received more than 25,000 pieces of mail requesting information, volunteering services and donating money.
Over the years, Mother and I devoted a steady stream of columns to raising awareness of Alzheimer's disease, publicizing the association's programs and services, and supporting them financially. We watched with satisfaction as they grew into the largest private funder of Alzheimer research and the premier source of information and support for everyone touched by the disease.
How ironic that this disease should eventually strike my own dear mother -- a woman known for her sharp intellect and quick wit. Her diagnosis reinforces our sense of stewardship in the success of the Alzheimer's Association.
Research offers the only hope of discovering the answer to Alzheimer's disease. Through the association's efforts, federal funding for Alzheimer's research has grown from $13 million in 1980 to almost $600 million today. The association's goal is to increase that commitment to $1 billion. Unless a cure is found, an estimated 14 million more people will have this disease by the year 2050.
I will work more closely than ever with the Alzheimer's Association to achieve our shared goals -- to eliminate this thief of the mind through research, and to enhance the quality of life for individuals, caregivers and families like our own.
If you or someone you love needs the Alzheimer's Association's help -- or wants to join this cause -- call (800) 272-3900. Someone will be there to receive your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or visit the Alzheimer's Association online at www.alz.org.