Tuesday, 18 June 2002

Life Is Interesting

Life is full of adventures, interesting encounters, and opportunities. Most of these, I find, include the study of people and their actions and reactions. Some are funny, some exhilarating, and some puzzling or sad, but they all lead to the fullness of my life and extend my understanding. Three years ago I was selected as a member of the State Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias. A heady title, it is a volunteer position that included creating a state planning and then actively working with our legislature to help enact laws to educate and train citizens, health professionals, law enforcement, and any other interested individuals about this horrendous disease and to safeguard those who have it and their caregivers.

Because legislative action is slow and the fact that my legislature meets every other year I decided to initiate my own awareness campaign to educate individuals throughout the expansive rural section of my state. I designed and purchased posters and brochures plus created a letter of introduction and explanation and then outlined my first route. When a member of the state Aging and Disabilities Services learned of my plan, she found funding for the materials and to cover mileage, a blessing that allows me to do more and with more authority. And so I set out on my first 600-mile education and information circuit. The first stop, 74 miles west of home was the public library. The librarian greeted me with an effusive welcome and expressed the desire for a live presentation on Alzheimer's disease. What a terrific, encouraging beginning. In the same town the senior center asked for more brochures and to please come share my information at Frontier Days in August. The long-term care facility and sheriff's department were excited as well and so I smiled, felt my heart lift, and drove on.

60 miles later I visited my second town and while the greeting was not as thrilling, law enforcement especially was interested in training to better understand and work with individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. And so I sped on visiting every town in the loop trying to always stop and visit with law enforcement, long-term care facilities, senior centers, and libraries. Because my state has been hesitant to require training and education for police, highway patrol, fire fighters, and other first responders, I was jazzed at the fact that every community's law enforcement agencies appeared eager to read the posters and study the brochure and intent on learning more.

Back to the interesting part, let me tell you about a post office I visited in a tiny town. I placed my materials on the community bulletin board and then took my explanation hand-out into the postal matron. She nodded, sighed, and announced, "No one here is interested in this."

Surprised I tossed out a couple of statistics and the importance of education and she repeated her negative reply. I tried a third shot, only to be shot down again. I pointed out my name and phone number and my email address on my flyer as I sort of pleaded with her, "If you do have someone ask about this, please have them contact me." With her, "I doubt it," good-by, I jumped in my pickup and headed 90 miles up the road to the last stop on this swing as I wondered at the disinterested voice of one person, the self-decreed spokesperson of the town.

Since a library had been my first inspiring stop, I made it my last in this community, the last on Loop #1. The room was entirely empty and I had to search for the librarian who was hidden in the stacks. I offered my spiel as she gazed at me thoughtful while keeping her distance at the same time.

"And what would I have to do?" I explained to her that it required nothing other than setting a date and time with me, then placing an announcement in her bulletin. She wrinkled her brow with consternation, scratched her head, pondered some more and then asked again what she would have to do. I reiterated and must have appeared forlorn enough that she finally gave in, handed me her card with library hours and a phone number for future contact. I guess that was a rousing cheer of encouragement.

This driving and driven moment of life I am finding, is full of adventures, interesting encounters, and opportunities. This is my chance to spread the word about Alzheimer's disease, increase understanding through education, and encourage citizens to contact Congress about increasing the research for a cure budget. I am seeing new sites and meeting new friends. I am studying and learning. My goal, my dream, is that every single person in my enormous region will know more about Alzheimer's with facts and figures and also know resources and help available to those with the disease and their caregivers and family. If we talk enough, know enough, and raise a ruckus, this disease will be brought to the forefront of everyone's conscience and we will demand and receive a cure now!

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