When I started working at the Alzheimer Society of Ontario in the early 90’s, one of my duties was to “man” a rarely- visited information booth at provincial government offices for the Federated Health Campaign. The Alzheimer Society booth was always tucked away between AIDS and Arthritis. At that time, the public wasn’t very interested in Alzheimer’s disease. Most questions were about whether elderly relatives should be using aluminum pots or wearing deodorant. Others couldn’t even pronounce Alzheimer.
Over the last 20 years, it’s amazing to see how far the Alzheimer Society has come, both as an organization and in the mind of the public. When I started, I was only the seventh full-time employee. With such limited resources, our efforts revolved around advocacy, raising money for the research and supporting and strengthening our Chapters around Ontario. Public engagement was minimal.
But one summer, that all changed. In June and August of 1995, Dr. Peter St George-Hyslop, from the Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative diseases at the University of Toronto, held two press conferences to announce the discovery of genes responsible for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. For the first time, we had the attention of international media, who began calling for quotes and information about the disease. Once I even had to find someone who spoke German for an interview with a Berlin radio station! Public interest also skyrocketed. The Alzheimer Society was on the map.
Informing the public became an essential part of our mission, aided by the growing ubiquity of the internet. Our web portal was launched in 2004 and in 2006 we helped launch the Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange, both of which have become key sources of information. In 2007, we also launched First Link®, an innovative program that allows doctors to put us in contact with recently diagnosed individuals.
The fruits of our labour are plainly visible. Whenever somebody comes to Society now, they are much more informed. No more questions about aluminum, senility, or “hardening of the arteries;” just people aware of what is happening to themselves or their loved ones and looking for Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow…®
To see a timeline of our achievements over the years, click here.
Senior Executive Assistant, Alzheimer Society of Ontario