DIMENSIONS Summer 1998


by Michael Matulka

Research in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is advanced through a wide range of activities, including basic laboratory science, testing of new treatment procedures and therapeutics, fundraising projects, speakers and public awareness campaigns. However, none of these advances would be possible without the personal commitment and participation of individuals like Valerie Peterson.

In her current role as the assistant to the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, Valerie Peterson might not be the first person you would consider a contributor to AD research. Her work for the department involves processing appointments of new staff, acting as a liaison for the recruitment committee, and coordinating the promotion process. However, Peterson is also a board member of the Friends of Alzheimer's (FoA). As a board member, Peterson feels that she is contributing to AD research by bringing her skills of raising money and public awareness to the FoA. Peterson says that "everyone has different talents and roles to bring to AD research."

After receiving a B.A. in education in the early 1970's from Seattle Pacific University, Peterson began working at the U.W. In 1983, while working part time in the Division of Gerontology and Geriatrics in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Peterson became a board member of the FoA. She describes 1983 as a year when AD was just coming into public attention, but was not talked about very much. The FoA, which was established by Dr. Burton Reifler to get interested citizens and caregivers involved in AD research, began monthly board meetings. They initiated a public awareness program that included raising funds for research, supporting new investigators and pilot projects, and sponsoring educational speakers and public forums. Examples of past fundraising events include a "Day at the Races" at Longacres and a Petite Wine Auction, to help support community presentations by AD experts, as well as researchers who have benefited from FoA support.

Peterson gets a lot of satisfaction from her work. Peterson says, "I like being at the department level because you feel like you're attached to something." In addition to her professional involvement and commitment to AD research through the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Peterson has a real personal interest in Alzheimer's research that comes from caring for a grandmother who had the disease. She states that her participation with the FoA and AD research has become "a cause I can believe in."

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