Alzheimer’s statistics are sobering — and personal

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I attended an early-morning breakfast meeting last week called “Reason to Hope,” during which Lynn Cabrera, the director of the Montana chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, talked about the group’s programs, research and public policy work.

As Cabrera so aptly noted, “Alzheimer’s is personal to us all,” and is the epidemic of our generation. If you read this column with any regularity, you know my mother has Alzheimer’s and has been very gradually declining and is now in a memory-care nursing facility.

The statistics rolled out during this presentation were startling. Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. A total of 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Right now 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050 that number is expected to rise to nearly 14 million, the association notes. Every 65 seconds someone in the U.S. develops the disease. It preys on women more than men; two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. Even if you don’t have a family member with Alzheimer’s or know of someone with this devastating disease, the numbers are sobering.

The take-home message for me is that we need to pour way more money into researching a cure for Alzheimer’s. Consider this: Between 2000 and 2015 deaths from heart disease — the No. 1 cause of death among Americans — have decreased 11 percent, while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased 123 percent.

It was pointed out that for diseases that have had a ground swell of funding for research — think about all that’s done for heart disease, breast cancer or cancer in general — significant progress has been made with treatment options. Not so with Alzheimer’s, which is just now coming into its own with events such as “The Longest Day,” held on June 21, the summer solstice. On that longest day of the year, participants are encouraged to get involved with fundraising for Alzheimer’s research. Learn more at alz.org/thelongestday.

“The Longest Day” is meant to metaphorically represent the disease itself, which can be, in our case, agonizingly slow to progress.

Another big event gaining momentum is the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. This year the walk will be Sept. 23 in Kalispell. The concept is simple: people form teams, get sponsors and walk together to bring attention to a disease that right now can’t be prevented, cured or even slowed.

In addition to raising needed money for research, these events spur conversations about Alzheimer’s. My mother hated the stigma attached to the disease, and ironically she is the one in our family now suffering from it.

The disease also is personal for me and my siblings because we face an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “further research may be of particular urgency for the population of adult children of persons with AD (“AD offspring”) as they themselves advance in age. There are, however, surprisingly few data available on the risks faced specifically by AD offspring. Even their overall number, which most likely ranges well into millions, remains as yet unknown.”

Talk about sobering information. There is “Reason to Hope,” though, as conversation and activism take root to find a cure. I need to do my part.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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