The women in the new Raise Your Voice campaign from the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and Alzheimer’s Association are singing songs like Ariana Grande’s “Breathin” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” They are women with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers in choirs from around the country.
Over their songs, Maria Shriver’s voice tells us that two-thirds of the people living with Alzheimer’s are women, “and none of them want to be silenced. Raise your voice to end this disease. Join us.”
If you go to alz.org/raiseyourvoice, you can sing with the “AlzheimHer’s” chorus through Facebook camera technology and post your performance to social media.
The pubic service announcement was created in Austin, Texas, by ad agency GSD&M and debuted at the South by Southwest festival during a panel with Shriver on International Women’s Day.
Shriver, who has been a champion for Alzheimer’s awareness and research since she watched her father, Sargent Shriver, experience the effects of the disease before his death in 2011, told GSD&M she wanted this PSA to find the positive “and not focus on the scare tactics,” says GSD&M President Marianne Malina, who lost her father to Alzheimer’s four years ago.
GSD&M discovered that these Alzheimer’s choirs existed across the county. The participants were learning new songs and experiencing deep joy, Malina says. “How could we let everyone sing?” she asked.
“In today’s world of PSAs, it’s about engagement,” Malina says. The real goal of Raise Your Voice is to get people to watch the PSA and then sing with the chorus, share that and get someone else to sing.
“We’re getting women to focus on their minds,” Shriver said of the PSA after the panel. “We’re putting it more boldly out there. We want more people to know these facts, more people to get involved.”
Her big message is that Alzheimer’s is something that affects women and that women need to think about that much earlier, when they’re in their 30s, 40s and 50s, Shriver says. Through her Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, she’s trying to reach that younger group. “Millions and millions of people don’t think Alzheimer’s disease is something they need to be thinking about,” she says.
Women are focusing on breast cancer, anxiety and depression, she says, but anxiety and depression are connected to Alzheimer’s, and women are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s as breast cancer, she says.
She wants young women to think about what they do day to day: how they sleep, how they engage with their communities, what they eat, how they live. It’s about longevity, she says. “To have a brain that works correctly, what you do today impacts that.”
Alzheimer’s, she says, is a women’s empowerment issue; it’s a health issue. She’d like women to not just get gynecological exams but to also to talk with doctors about brain health, too.
“Know that if you’re just having a mammogram and (a Pap smear), you deserve more than that,” she says.
What Shriver has learned about Alzheimer’s has led her to change the way she lives her life. She meditates, eats less sugar, pays more attention to whom she hangs out with and makes sure she has quiet time.
She was talking after the panel in front of a whole bowl of chocolate. “In the past, I would have eaten the whole bowl,” she says.
Malina, too, has changed the way she lives based on what she’s learned about Alzheimer’s. “I’ve completely given up stress,” she says. “If I’m going to stress out about something, it has to be something that is worthy. Once you learn about its effects on the brain and your body, it’s a complete waste of time.”
Shriver thinks the Alzheimer’s movement can take a page from the AIDS and breast cancer movements. She’d love to see in November businesses supporting Alzheimer’s research and messaging with purple products marketed in a “hip, cool way.” That means getting companies to “sidestep ageism” and realize that this is an issue their employees face, and people will pay money for products that support Alzheimer’s research.
Shriver sees this not unlike the movements her parents championed, including the Peace Corps and disability rights and what became the Special Olympics.
She’d like to see a focus on research and brain health, for corporate America to step up with support, and for this to be a political issue.
Although she’s been around politics her whole life, she doesn’t have any interest in pursuing a political career herself. “Most change doesn’t happen through politics,” she says. “People in Washington respond to a cultural movement, a grassroots movement.”
In five years, she’d like to see herself out of business as an Alzheimer’s advocate because it would no longer be necessary. She thinks it’s possible for Alzheimer’s to be like AIDS, where breakthroughs happened after years of struggle. Maybe it’s a drug cocktail. Maybe it’s an advance in technology.
A potential treatment or cure is not unlike finding the job you want or the right man or woman. “It’s frustrating until you find the right one,” she says.