Time for Presidential Candidates to Talk About Alzheimer's Plans

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I listened intently to last night’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. While tuning in to try to get a better picture of the candidates’ platforms, strengths and weaknesses, I also was intrigued by the questions asked by the audience. Some questions were not surprises, such as the ones about the economy. I also found myself saying “Amen!” when other questions cropped up, such as the query on women’s issues. And afterwards, I thought it was interesting that the pundits felt like more of the debate should have focused on the fiscal cliff that the United States faces and hope that this topic actually is addressed more fully in the third debate.

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    Unfortunately, there was another major cliff that the United States is rapidly facing and it hasn’t been addressed at all. It’s the coming tsunami that is caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some reasons why the presidential candidates should be addressing this:

    • A long-term budgetary crisis in the making. As I reported in an earlier sharepost, the 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures reported, “For people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, aggregate payments for health care, long-term care and hospice are projected to increase from $183 billion in 2011 to $1.1 trillion in 2050 (in 2011 dollars).” Furthermore, the Medicare payments per person for beneficiaries who were 65 and older who had dementia in 2004 were -- at $19,304 -- approximately three times higher than the average Medicare payments for beneficiaries of this age ($6,720).
    • The double whammy on caregivers in terms of health and economic output. In 2006, MetLife published a study on caregiving that noted that caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s provided 47 hours of care as compared to 33 hours by caregivers for physically impaired individuals and also experienced 13.5 percent-times greater stress. This combination was described as taking a larger toll on these caregivers’ health than other caregivers. Thirty-two percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers said their health had worsened due to caregiving as compared to 22 percent of those caring for a physically impaired family member.  Additionally, the financial impact of caring for a family member who has dementia was also found to be greater. Spouses of people who have Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to have to quit a job because of caregiving (10.6 percent) than other caregiving spouses (4 percent). Furthermore, all working family caregivers felt they needed to rearrange their work schedules and often had to take time off without pay in order to provide care.

    The first presidential debate, while interesting, didn’t have a question related to Alzheimer’s.  On its blog, Research! America – which is the national’s largest non-profit public education and advocacy alliance working to ensure that the national priority on research to improve health is a higher priority -- wrote the following after the first debate: “The first presidential debate gave us little to go on regarding research for health. Americans are dying to know more – many, quite literally dying – about what either presidential candidate would do to speed up medical progress in the face of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and the host of other disabling and deadly health threats that breed suffering, compromise independence and drive spiraling health care costs. Add to that the pivotal role medical innovation plays in our economy, and Americans absolutely deserve to know whether candidates will champion or shortchange it.” And as we found out last night, this type of question wasn’t part of the town hall forum.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with Research America that this topic needs to be raised! As Americans, we do need to hear what President Obama and Governor Romney have done in the past and what steps they will take in the future to help us avoid this very real fiscal and physical cliff that we’re facing. Let’s not play chicken or stick our heads in the sand. It’s time to talk about one of the greatest challenges facing America!

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    MedLife. (2006). The MetLife study of Alzheimer’s disease: The caregiving experience.

    Research! America. (2012). A weekly advocacy message from Mary Wooley: Dying to know more…. Blog.

Published On: October 17, 2012