Alzheimer's Disease: The Battle for Awareness, Funding and a Cure

Alzheimer's Disease: The Battle for Awareness, Funding and a Cure

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Expert Author Lisa Schilling
Alzheimer's is a dreaded diagnosis, impacting not only the afflicted, but all those associated with that person. It is feared due to its debilitating nature, causing a steady decline of mental faculties, while the body continues to support life. This allows someone to be physically alive, while not being aware of their surroundings, able to care for themselves, or recognize and communicate with loved ones. This slow decline can devastate families. The duties of care giving can become overwhelming, and in many cases impossible to manage at home. This takes an emotional and physical toll on all involved.
Its prevalence is startling, more than 5 million Americans age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 with early-onset, are estimated to live with this disease. Current statistics show that 11% of those 65 and older, (one in nine) have Alzheimer's disease. This increases to 32% of those ages 85 and older (near one-third). Statistics also show that women are two-thirds more likely to have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. The reason for this is largely unknown, however the fact that on average, women tend to live longer than men, could account for this higher proportion.
The baby boom generation, making up close to one-third of society, is now turning 65. As that population continues to increase, so will the number of Americans afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Current estimates show that one in eight baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease, and even if they do not, they will be caregivers for someone who has it. Predictions indicate that by 2025, 7.1 million people age 65 and older will have Alzheimer's disease. That is a 40% increase from those currently affected. Without any breakthroughs to slow, stop, or prevent the disease, that number could triple by 2050, to a projected 13.8 million.
According to the Alzheimer's Association's 2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, "Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States." It is the fifth, for those aged 65 and older. This number is expected to rise by more than 50% over the next 20 years. "One in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia. Today, an American develops Alzheimer's disease every 68 seconds. In 2050, an American will develop the disease every 33 seconds." This puts Alzheimer's in the top 10 causes of death in America. However, it is the only disease on that list without a way to slow its progression, prevent it, or cure it.
The sad reality is that Alzheimer's deaths went up 68% between 2000 and 2010, while deaths from other major diseases went down. These numbers could be even higher than reported, as many deaths occur because of decline caused by the advanced symptoms of Alzheimer's, but not the disease itself. Like many chronic diseases, Alzheimer's needs money to fund research. The money spent on Alzheimer's research is relatively low. At only half-billion dollars annually, it pales in comparison to the money available to fund research for other, more publicized diseases.
Much progress has been made in the treatment and understanding of these better-funded diseases, due to the development of research infrastructure necessary to support the work of finding treatments and prevention tools. With the extra research money, comes advances in treatment and prevention, like those seen in cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS, where there was significantly more funding available, $5.4 billion, $4 billion, and $3 billion respectively. Such funding shows the discrepancy between what it takes to make advances and what is currently available to fund the important Alzheimer's research.
It is time to raise a red flag and put this disease at center stage to get the publicity necessary to obtain more research funding. In April 2012, the Alzheimer's Advisory Council on Alzheimer's Research, Care and Services described an urgent need to fund a strategic Alzheimer's research plan to achieve the breakthroughs "essential to the saving of millions of lives and trillions of dollars." The costs of Alzheimer's are both fiscal and human. It is common for caregivers to suffer from anxiety, depression, and numerous other physical health problems. Because Alzheimer's has a hereditary factor, finding a way to prevent and treat this disease is critical to both current and future generations.
As a result of the costly care required for this disease, there will be a remarkable rise in Medicare and Medicaid spending. Estimates show that close to 30% of Alzheimer's and dementia patients are on both Medicare and Medicaid. That is compared to only 11% of those without these conditions. This type of increase could cripple an already struggling healthcare system. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that, "In 2013, Alzheimer's will cost the nation $203 billion. This number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050." To prevent this from becoming reality, we must act now.
Awareness is essential to stopping the escalation of this disease. Each person must do their part to speak out on behalf of increased funding for the research and development of a cure. The consequences for not acting are clear. There is still time to turn these numbers around, but it will take increased education and funding. If everyone uses his or her voice and resources, finding a cure could be nearby. The future of Alzheimer's research is still unknown, whether people choose to take action or do nothing will determine that outcome.
"Wellness Matters" Article Series by Lisa Schilling RN, BSN, CPT
Speaker, Writer, Wellness Coach & Consultant
Lisa Schilling is the author of "The Get REAL Guide to Health and Fitness-FIVE STEPS to Create Your Own Personal Wellness Plan." She juggles life as a doting wife and the mother of three boys, who keep her feet firmly planted on the ground!
Lisa is a Registered Nurse, author and recovering pageant queen, who spreads hope with her Get REAL approach to wellness. She empowers women, caregivers and groups to unleash their fullest potential by helping them to see their true beauty and discover their REAL value.

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