RUSTY HAAKE, BVB DALLAS AMBASSADOR
“Awareness” is a funny word. Like “tolerance” or “conservative,” it tends to mean whatever the person saying it needs it to mean.
In medical research, however, this term is as specific as it is important. To explain its relevance to Alzheimer’s Disease, let’s look at a parallel. Let’s talk about Polio.
Polio has been around for awhile. There are Egyptian cave paintings dating back to the 14th century BCE suggesting an illness causing a headache then paralysis. Science folk started writing about it in the 1800s. But it didn’t become a huge statistical blip until standards of living rose enough that children weren’t exposed to Polio virus while still nursing.
Polio “became a thing” in the 20th century (note the timing). If you were born at the turn of the century and managed to survive two world wars, you probably:
- Saw a non-trivial number of your friends die or become crippled by this disease
- Were scared out of your mind that your own kids would succumb to it
- Were reminded of the above every single time you saw or heard your president speak
Hundreds of thousands of (mostly children) deaths later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be filmed preferentially from the waist up (because he was crippled from Polio), bringing much-needed awareness to the disease. Shortly thereafter, Jonas Salk and his team created a Polio vaccine in 1955.
Here’s the timing thing again – it took two generations of Polio existing as a known killer, including a US president who very publicly and candidly displayed the results, for mankind to win the battle. Nowadays Polio has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere and almost extinguished from the global population. Whoa.
But vaccines don’t just “happen.” We create them. And human beings need motivation to do really hard (and expensive) things like create vaccines. So what happened in the 50-year gap between Polio emergence as a problem and the vaccine introduction?
- It killed or paralyzed (or both) lots of people
- This made lots of people sad
- People who were made sad by it grew up and became smart, driven, formerly sad people
- Smart, driven, formerly sad people angrily said “this is BS,” collaborated and killed the relentless child killer that was the Polio virus
This sounds weird at first, but the parallels here get me excited. Alzheimer’s, like Polio, didn’t get a foot in the door until standards of living grew to the level that other things weren’t killing us first. Life expectancy before the 50’s wasn’t long enough to make this disease a high-profile problem. No longer the case. Now we’re here, and 1 in 7 of us will experience it firsthand.
Alzheimer’s has almost risen to the point of social consciousness that Polio achieved in the FDR administration. And what happens when an army of smart people are suddenly talking about the same thing? Meaningful change. Mankind is neat that way. When we finally all agree on what the problem is, we tend to do a bang-up job of solving it.
That’s why this post is about awareness. It’s still a funny word, and it can still be used in plenty of ways. But in this field, awareness takes a population from Step 3 to Step 4. Many people work furiously hard in Step 3. Awareness makes more Step 3-ers, helps them work together, and keeps us all inspired. Awareness speeds up the process of getting us from 3 and into 4. A century ago, this took 2 generations. I don’t want to wait that long. I want a cure and I want you to want one too. So we can all get to Step 4.
That’s why I support BvB Dallas, and that’s why you should too.