Editor’s note: This guest post is by J. Patrick Berry, a former partner of the law firm Baker Botts LLP where he currently serves as Senior Counsel. The views expressed below are those of Mr. Berry and do not reflect the views of Baker Botts LLP. Mr. Berry is a founding board member of USAgainstAlzheimer's and is also the author of Escape from Enchantment, a novella based on his own family’s experience with Alzheimer’s.
African Americans are 2 to 3 Times More Likely to Develop Alzheimer’s. When I first heard this statistic, it literally blew me away. Not that there aren’t other shocking statistics involving this disease. For example, it is the sixth leading cause of death in this country today. And as the number of Americans dying from strokes, heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and HIV all declined between 2000 and 2008, the number of Americans dying from Alzheimer’s during that same time period actually increased by 66%.
Here’s another shocking statistic: the costs of caring for Alzheimer’s patients before they die are astronomical. It is estimated that up to $200 billion will be spent this year alone on those costs, a number that excludes any payments for the lost wages of patients’ unpaid caregivers. Of this $200 billion, 70% will come from Medicare and Medicaid funds. By the year 2050, annual costs are projected to exceed $1 trillion.
I learned first-hand about the horrors caused by Alzheimer’s after my father-in-law was officially diagnosed with the disease in early 1999. For the next six years, I watched as he slowly and methodically shriveled up and died.
When I visited him in his nursing home in Northern Virginia, it often surprised me when I learned of the background of a new patient who had been admitted with the same disease. A scientist who had taught linguistics at Harvard and a Navy captain who had commanded a nuclear submarine during the height of the Cold War were not spared from Alzheimer’s, despite their educational degrees or their professional careers or their wealth. Even Presidents of the United States are not immune, as Ronald Reagan’s poignant handwritten letter to the American public made clear. Based on this, I concluded that Alzheimer’s did not discriminate among its victims.
And then I learned how brutally it discriminates against older African Americans, who are two to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than older white Americans.
What is surprising is how few people (regardless of their race or ethnicity) are aware of this startling statistic. African Americans, however, have a much more critical need to know about this fact and to get involved in helping find a cure for the disease because Alzheimer’s presents one of the greatest health care disparities affecting them today.
Creating an African American Network Against Alzheimer’s provides one method for African Americans to fight back. Even though I am not African American, I am committed to the formation of such a network because I am convinced that it could achieve three separate but related objectives.