National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month 2011 ending: significant work ahead
As we close out National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we need to be aware that we are still a long way from the goal of eliminating this brain-destroying disease. Many organizations have worked hard to increase public awareness about the serious threat that Alzheimer’s poses to our elders, their families and our national economy.
One of those organizations, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, presents us with these statistics:
- As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease.
- The incidence of the disease is rising in line with the aging population.
- Although Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, the risk of developing the illness rises with advanced age. Current research from the National Institute on Aging indicates that the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease doubles every five years beyond age 65.
- As our population ages, the disease impacts a greater percentage of Americans. The number of people age 65 and older will more than double between 2010 and 2050 to 88.5 million or 20 percent of the population; likewise, those 85 and older will rise three-fold, to 19 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- About a half million Americans younger than age 65 have some form of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
- One to four family members act as caregivers for each individual with Alzheimer's disease.
The human and financial cost of Alzheimer’s disease is threatening our nation’s health care system, as well as the financial and emotional health of families. The only defense is finding a way to prevent or cure the disease. To accomplish this, awareness and education, leading to funding for research, is necessary.
High profile people, such as recently diagnosed basketball legend Pat Summitt, have helped raise AD awareness. Summitt has drawn attention to early on-set AD, since she was diagnosed at age 59 (AD is generally considered early on-set if it is diagnosed before age 65). She now has set up a foundation for channeling funding for Alzheimer’s research at www.patsummitt.org.
Education nearly always leads to action. It’s human to think, “I really feel sorry for my neighbor’s mother. She has Alzheimer’s and it’s sad to see her decline.”
But when you read that a gifted, active person such as Summitt has been diagnosed with a disease that will likely shorten her stellar career, the prevalence of the disease becomes more real. People realize that the next diagnosis they hear about could be their spouse’s, their mom’s – or their own.
Don’t let Alzheimer’s disease fall off your radar. Keep after your political leaders to keep funding for AD a priority. It’s not only the humane thing to do – it’s the financially prudent option.