World Alzheimer Day, September 21, 2013 is a good time to reflect on how the perception of Alzheimer disease has changed over my 35 year career. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, most health professions and the vast majority of the public had never heard of the illness. Today, it would be difficult to find any adult who had not heard of it, and most people know someone who has or had the illness. This change came about through a broad education effort to inform people that the condition once referred to as “senility” was, in fact, a group of illnesses referred to as dementia, and that the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer disease.
Research demonstrating the significant public health burden caused by Alzheimer disease was crucial in mobilizing funding for research, supporting demands that care providers be better educated about how to care for people with dementia, encouraging innovative thinkers to develop new and more effective models of care, and encouraging the development of supportive services for family caregivers.