The Age of Alzheimers Part One - WSET.com - ABC13

The Age of Alzheimers Part One

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Lynchburg, VA - The numbers are staggering, and set to reach epidemic levels, both in the number of people affected by Alzheimer's Disease, and the costs associated with it and other dementing illnesses.  If researchers don't come up with a cure, it could put this country in crisis. Millions are already affected by it, causing heartbreak across families.  Not to mention it's fatal, and right now, there is no way to prevent it.

"It’s a damnable disease that affects not only the person with it, but the family, spouse, children everybody involved with it, says Bishops Phillip Weeks. His wife, June, first started showing symptoms about 12 years ago. She’s been diagnosed with Lewy Body disease, a form of dementia.  June had been a talented artist, intelligent, and very involved with his missions work. 
"I got a call from her. I’m in Africa, she’s in Casselbury Florida and she doesn’t know how to get home.  Panic filled.  Royally."

As is often the case, denial set in before acceptance. But accepting it doesn’t make it any easier. Today all Weeks can do is wonder if she recognizes him or their two daughters.  He can't fight the tears as he thinks about the woman that raised them. "I think she knows who they are. Her facial expressions seem to acknowledge she knows them.  But I know they’re going through a hard time dealing with it because…. it’s not the momma… it’s not the momma they used to have."

Mary Baker’s mom Lolly got diagnosed later in life—at age 92, after they noticed she was struggling to understand new things.  "It was when we changed from analog TV to digital TV and the controls were different and she couldn’t handle the new controls and that seemed to set the pattern," said Baker. 

Lolly too had been highly active. She ran two businesses after her husband died.  She didn’t retire until she was 87. "She used to write plays for Girl Scouts we used to perform them, she was active in the business worked outside the home. She did so many things so it’s difficult to think of that mom."


 My own mom’s always been a little silly and fun. Very social. She sang in the church choir for decades. In fact she’s still a beautiful soprano, so we often engage her through music. 

"It’s difficult for people to say but in Alzheimer’s, people die twice. You lost the person who share life with you and loved you.  And then they physically die," says Sue Friedman, President and CEO of the Central Virginia Alzheimer's Association.

 And this devastating disease is growing in astronomical numbers. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that in 11 years, in 2025, the number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s Disease will be 7.1 million. By 2050 that number will nearly double to 13.8 million.  That's almost triple the 5 million cases today.  That doesn’t include all the loved ones and friends impacted by it.

Friedman says, "The solution is not how do we train thousands of thousands of more caregivers. How do we build dozens and dozens hundreds more facilities. The solution has to be how do we solve Alzheimer’s because if we started today and had unlimited money we could not build enough facilities we could not train enough people.  75 million baby boomers."   

The science isn’t yet showing any rhyme or reason as to who gets it or why, though scientists have identified some risk factors, like family history.  And women have a higher risk than men. In fact for women it’s often a double whammy.

"Females seem to be caretakers and the nurturers, um we have a double edged sword, we end up taking care, we also end up getting it, so we have two ways of looking at this and it’s difficult in both situations, says Baker."

It’s not a disease where you either cure it and live, or don’t cure it and die.  It’s incurable, and can drag on for years, making it very costly. Americans will spend 203 billion dollars this year-- on care giving, nursing homes, medications and more, and by 2050, the projections are 1.2 trillion dollars. 

"Families are literally being bankrupt by this disease and would be completely bankrupt if it were not for Medicaid taking over," says Friedman. "We cannot afford Alzheimer’s we cannot afford the tripling of Alzheimer’s. And so we need to stand up across the country and say to our local elected officials to our state elected officials to our federal elected officials and all of our organizations and say we want this solved. And what do you need from us in order to understand that this is a priority and this needs to happen."

Friedman believes researchers will one day find a way to both reverse Alzheimer’s Disease, and prevent it, if the government will allocate the funds. She says no one ever thought there would be a cure to polio and researchers found one. We sent a man to the moon. But Alzheimer’s Disease is only getting about 520 million dollars a year in federal money. That sound like a lot, but it’s all relative.

"Cancer research gets 6 billion, with a B. Which is fabulous," says Friedman. "Look at the advances we’ve seen in cancer. Amazing advances. Cardiovascular 4 billion. AIDS/HIV, juvenile diabetes and on and on in the billions multiple billions of dollars, and they’ve been getting this type and level of funding for many years and look at the results.

And if the numbers end up tripling what they are today, with not enough nursing homes or caregivers available, Friedman says Americans will end up having to quit work to care for a parent or loved one.  Or perhaps worse- leave them alone, risking wandering, injuries, or death. Already today more than 15 million Americans are providing 210 billion dollars worth of unpaid care, many leaving their jobs to care for their parent.  Husbands are caring for their wives when they’re elderly themselves. 

In Part Two of the Age of Alzheimer's, we learn more about ways we should prepare for the possibility we're going to be among the numbers, how to prepare legally and financially, as well as things you may be able to do to at least stave it off for a few years.  In the meantime we've set up numerous links to resources to help you navigate the ins and outs of this heartbreaking disease.


Click HERE for Alzheimer's Resources Links.

Click HERE for Support Groups for Caregivers.
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