When former President Ronald Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease in November, calls to the Alzheimer's Assn. increased by 150%. Today, when the organization releases several public service announcements with Nancy Reagan discussing the effects of the disease on families, officials expect the phones to ring off the hook.
"We think she can call attention to the issue with greater impact than anyone else can," said Kathryn Kane, senior vice president of communications for the association.
The former First Lady offered to do the public service announcements after experiencing the emotional devastation of Alzheimer's firsthand. She urges those faced with the problem to call the association for help.
"No one is immune from Alzheimer's disease," Reagan is quoted as saying in a press release explaining why she made the spots. "Families really need help to understand it and cope with it, emotionally and in many other ways."
America's awareness of the disease has increased significantly since Ronald Reagan's diagnosis. According to Kane, calls to the organization have remained so high that extra phone lines were hooked up and additional operators were hired. Nancy Reagan's message is especially important, said Kane, because families need to know that help is available.
"Family members don't always know what's going on," Kane said. "They end up taking care of this person that looks healthy but whose behavior has changed drastically. They don't realize that they need help themselves." Kane added that as many as 80% of Alzheimer's caregivers suffer stress-related illnesses.
Nearly 4 million Americans are afflicted by this brain disease that affects memory and the ability to think and make judgments. People who have Alzheimer's often don't know who they are and can't function in daily life.
The public service announcements are sponsored by the Alzheimer's Assn. and the National Institute on Aging, and produced by KTTV/FOX 11 Los Angeles.
The Alzheimer's Assn. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to prevention research and providing assistance to families. The association has more than 200 chapters in all 50 states and offers a wide range of programs and services. For more information, call (800) 272-3900.