Q: Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. What’s the prognosis for this debilitating disease?
A: Many Iowa families know first-hand the heartaches and hardships that go hand-in-hand with this devastating disease. As patients’ identities are stolen by deteriorating brain function, millions of caregivers across America shoulder the uncertainties of an emotional and physically exhausting rollercoaster ride. Bearing witness to a degenerative loss of memory and cognitive ability, caregivers help loved ones navigate medical appointments, therapies, treatments, and in many cases, personalized around-the-clock care. By all accounts, the human toll bears immeasurable costs for both patients and caregivers.
The U.S. economy, from the taxpaying public to household budgets, will pay a growing price to foot the bill as health care providers and medical researchers respond to the rising impact of Alzheimer’s in America. As victims suffer from progressive dementia and health-related setbacks that erode independence, their caregivers endure setbacks on employment, income and financial security. The legions of caregivers in this country provide a tremendous service to loved ones with Alzheimer’s, volunteering billions of hours of care with an estimated economic value of $210 billion. Considering 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, the projected prevalence of the disease will put even more pressure on caregivers and the health care system, requiring more health care providers trained to diagnose, treat and care for dementia patients.
A woman’s lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s is estimated to be 1 in 6, compared to 1 in 11 for a man. If progression keeps its current pace, roughly 16 million Americans age 65 and older will suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2050. The annual cost of caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia is expected to reach $1.2 trillion that year, up from $214 billion today (that includes $150 billion in Medicare and Medicaid costs). At this pace, Alzheimer’s care would add up to $20 trillion over the next three decades. It will take all hands on deck, from grassroots advocacy to the leveraged commitment of the public and private sectors that support research and development to address Alzheimer’s and other diseases impacting America’s aging population in the 21st century.
Q: How can Iowans affected by Alzheimer’s disease make a difference?
A: Members of the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association recently travelled to the nation’s capital to make a personal appeal to raise support for a cause so close to their hearts and homes.
Backing up their call for more research funding, caregiver support, education and public awareness, these grassroots advocates made an impressionable visit to Capitol Hill. Wearing purple and sharing their personal hopes and fears, ordinary citizens championed their cause, asking lawmakers to accelerate medical research and funding for clinical breakthroughs that would make Alzheimer’s preventable, treatable and curable. This is representative government at work.
Many have a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker who is coping with this devastating disease and seeking to extend a high quality of life for as long as possible. Too many victims have lost their dignity and their lives to this disease. Iowa has the third highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the United States having seen an 84 percent increase in Alzheimer’s deaths since 2000, according to the non-profit Alzheimer’s Association.
Q: Where can caregivers and patients turn to for help?
A: More than 30 years ago, President Reagan proclaimed the first Alzheimer’s Awareness month in November 1983. Three decades ago, two million Americans had Alzheimer’s. Today, more than 5.2 million Americans are living with this disease.
The nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association offers an online clearinghouse of information and message boards for patients and family members to connect via an online support system. Visitors can find answers to financial matters, treatments and research and support for caregivers. Go to www.alz.org for more information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also provides an online platform at www.alzheimers.gov to serve as a resource for caregivers and patients.