TODAY   |  September 03, 2013

PR exec: Alzheimer’s has ‘negative stigma’

Melissa Kahaly of public relations firm Ruder Finn says there is a widespread misconception that Alzheimer’s disease only affects old people, pointing out that it affects their families as well.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> a little more. let's bring in melissa. you are a pr executive and you lost your mom to alzheimer 's. we don't need to think of the disease as having an imagine problem but do you think there's an effort that needs to be underway?

>> yes, there's unfortunately a negative stigma that surrounds this. often people think of it as a disease that old people gets but it's really not. it can effect younger people and especially the family and caregivers of those that have the disease. so i think appointing someone as a national celebrity can maybe change that negative imagine.

>> and there's goals here. first of all, you want early intervention. but to be honest about it you also need the research dollars.

>> as you saw, the difference between what aids gets and cancer gets versus what alzheimer 's gets. but this is a disease also that young people need to be aware of. they'll take care of their parents. we have boomers coming of age . so this is a boomer's disease and it's an issue for young people like melissa who lose their mothers.

>> what do you think might make the difference? having a face of the illness? maybe their caregiver?

>> exactly. i think caregivers, family members. grand children of people are effected and children of people. myself, i was 17 when i first started to be affected by this. but i think that having a celebrity to kind of see that and a younger person who they, themselves have been exposed to the disease would really kind of help to change that negative stigma but there's so much we can do and we can engage younger generations as well. it would be amazing to have them lead the charge, change facebook and twitter purple for alzheimer 's action day which is september 21st and lead that charge for changing that negative perception.

>> maria, we're making a big push this week and i think nbc is making a huge difference. we'll be reporting tonight on nightly and all through the week on today trying to deal with some of the stigmas. trying to tell you what's out there, diet, exercise, clinical trials and new innovative programs.

>> our conversation is beginning. thank