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Alzheimer’s disease battle, caregivers gain support from President Obama

About 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease — two-thirds are women. It is costly for caregivers and the country, and the numbers are only expected to grow.
About 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease — two-thirds are women. It is costly for caregivers and the country, and the numbers are only expected to grow. The Associated Press

People struggling against Alzheimer’s disease — either as those who have it, their caregivers, advocacy groups or researchers — got a tremendous boost this week from President Barack Obama. The Oval Office support is long overdue.

Obama joined other presidents, proclaiming November 2015 as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month. “This November, let us focus our nation's attention on the challenges posed by Alzheimer's disease, which families across America courageously face every day,” Obama said.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that President Ronald Reagan in 1983 was the first to designate November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. At that time fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia that robs people of their ability to recall things, learn, think and behave as they normally would.

Before his death in June 2004 at age 93, Reagan himself suffered for nearly a decade with Alzheimer’s disease. Today nearly 5.4 million people have it, and there is no known cause or cure for it.

Two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and 5.1 million are people over age 65. About 200,000 persons are under age 65, suffering early onset of Alzheimer’s.

That describes my mother, who died from Alzheimer’s at age 62 in 1994. As the more than 75 million baby boomers become senior citizens, the number of Americans with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias will grow.

“By 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40 percent increase from the 5.1 million age 65 and older affected in 2015,” the Alzheimer’s Association reports. “By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease may nearly triple, from 5.1 million to a projected 13.8 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure the disease.”

Obama in his proclamation Wednesday spoke of the federal government being the top funder of Alzheimer’s research. A national plan is being put together to lead to prevention and effective treatment of Alzheimer’s by 2025.

“With the expansion and innovation of research initiatives, we are gaining new insight on how to delay, treat, and prevent this disease,” Obama said. “We are also continuing to make investments in the brain research through advancing innovative neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, which will advance our understanding of the most intricate aspects of the human mind to address diseases that affect the brain.

“And earlier this year, I announced a new Precision Medicine Initiative, an effort aimed at bringing us closer to a cure for diseases like Alzheimer's by accelerating biomedical discoveries and providing clinicians with new tools, knowledge and therapies to select treatments that will work best for individual patients.”

The president added that the country must do more to support families and caregivers for people who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. They bear an incredible burden.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 700,000 people in the United States age 65 or older will die from the disease, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the country. “Between 2000 and 2013, deaths attributed to Alzheimer's disease increased 71 percent, while those attributed to the No. 1 cause of death — heart disease — decreased 14 percent,” the association notes.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that in 2014, friends and family of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias provided about 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care, a contribution to the nation valued at $217.7 billion. About two-thirds of the caregivers are women. The physical and emotional toll in 2014 resulted in caregivers themselves having $9.7 billion in additional health care costs.

“Caregivers around America show incredible devotion to those they look after, and caring for a person with Alzheimer's can have profound effects on one's emotional, financial, and physical well-being,” Obama said.

In 2015 the cost of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is expected to be $226 billion. That is predicted to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050.

Obama notes that “misperceptions about the disease can isolate and stigmatize people with dementia and their families.”

That has to change along with stepped up efforts support families and caregivers, to slow the progression of the disease, its effect and ultimately find a cure so people can live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

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