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President of Alzheimer's Disease International-1989-08-12

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Event - 1989-A
Saturday, 1989, August 12
USA Today Interview
Princess Yasmin Aga Khan with her mother Rita Hayworth
Princess Yasmin Aga Khan

On May 14, 1987, my mother, Rita Hayworth, died. The cause of death was Alzheimer's Disease. I recall how utterly lost and confused I felt when I first heard the name, Alzheimer's Disease. I had no idea what Alzheimer's was or what to expect.

During the next seven years, I found out. Shortly after the diagnosis, I was introduced to the Alzheimer's Association by some dear friends. It is an organization founded by the families of Alzheimer's patients. The knowledge and help I received from the association ``family'' during the years my mother was ill were invaluable. I found that sharing my frustrations and concerns with other caregivers helped to release the anxiety and strain of coping with a loved one who was losing the capacity for self-care. Alzheimer's attacks the brain, resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behavior. An estimated 4 million Americans suffer from it, and more than 100,000 die of AD annually, making it the fourth leading cause of death in adults after heart disease, cancer and stroke. It knows no social or economic boundaries and affects men and women almost equally.

Most victims are over 65, but it can strike in the 40s and 50s. I suspect it started early in my mother's case. I learned the symptoms of AD include a gradual memory loss, decline in ability to perform routine tasks, impairment of judgment, disorientation, personality change, difficulty in learning and loss of language skills. The course of the disease is usually from two to 10 years before its victims are rendered totally incapable of caring for themselves, requiring help with eating, grooming and toileting. The association also provided me with a vehicle to channel my frustrations in a positive way. I decided that my mother's illness could be the catalyst for increasing public awareness for AD and to ultimately find a cure.

Working with the association, I established the Rita Hayworth Galas. The Rita Hayworth Galas help raise funds for the association's research programs and family-support activities. They present the opportunity to honor medical and scientific leaders, private citizens and corporations who contribute to find the cause and cure for this tragic affliction. The first gala was held in New York in 1985 and, since then, the five in New York and the three in Chicago have raised more than $10 million.

The $10 million which was raised consoles me when I think of the many years of my mother's illness. These funds go toward the possibility of making longevity a blessing instead of an insurmountable trial for many in the coming generations.

One of the many wishes I had for my mother was that she could have enjoyed my son, who was born just two years before she died. And I wish he could have had the opportunity to know his beautiful and fascinating grandmother. It saddens me to think of what they both missed because of Alzheimer's.

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