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Alzheimer's campaign a rewarding role for actress

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Soap actress Linda Dano says educating the public about Alzheimer's disease is "probably the most important work I've ever done."

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(CNN) -- Actress and talk-show host Linda Dano has long been one of daytime's leading ladies, but the soap diva says she is most passionate about raising awareness for Alzheimer's disease.

"It's probably the most important work I've ever done," Dano says. "My father was at the very last part of his life diagnosed with Alzheimer's."

Like many people, Dano says her family ignored early signs of the disease.

"My father was acting strange -- that's how we looked at it. He was getting old and cranky and difficult,'' she recalls.

The symptoms eventually became too severe to ignore. "He became very violent, and I couldn't handle him," Dano says. "I didn't know what to do with him."

Suspecting mental illness was the cause of her father's behavior, Dano had him admitted to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital.

By the time she learned that Alzheimer's was to blame, it was too late. "I found out that he had this disease that affected that part of his brain, and it was a real disease," she says.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's. The disease robs brain cells, resulting in memory loss, disorientation, personality changes and dementia.

Dano says more information about the disease would have helped her family through a difficult time. "I didn't even know what Alzheimer's was," she says.

After her father's death in 1996, she says, "I ate and I cried privately. I never spoke about it. ... Guilt is a very palatable thing."

But Dano says she decided to speak out publicly because "I thought maybe on some level I can do this and honor him."

The actress pays tribute to her father through a national Alzheimer's awareness campaign called Identifying Alzheimer's. The program, which a manufacturer of Alzheimer's medications sponsors, pays special attention to caregivers.

"When this starts to come into your family, it is devastating," she says. "And you'll [want] to reach out to somebody. You cannot do this by yourself. You have to know how to help yourself as a caregiver."

And what's the likelihood that a daytime drama will feature a storyline on Alzheimer's?

"I wish they would, God I wish they would," Dano says. "Boy, would that help millions of people out there."

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