To the Editor:
Alzheimer’s can’t wait.
That is the message from Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association. Anyone who has ever cared for someone with dementia will readily agree with that. We know the time is overdue to find relief for people suffering from this progressive, always-fatal disease, and for the families who bear witness to the inexorable decline of someone they love.
Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. It’s time for that to change. Alzheimer’s can’t wait.
Every 68 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. As the population ages, that will become every 33 seconds by 2050. The 5.4 million people who have Alzheimer’s right now will swell to 16 million. The $200 billion we as a nation spend on direct care costs will soar to over $1 trillion (in current dollars!). Alzheimer’s can’t wait.
The emotional toll of caregiving is incalculable. The physical toll on caregivers’ well-being added $8.7 billion to health care costs in 2011. How can that be? Well, in 2011 there were 15.2 million family and friends providing 17.4 billion hours of unpaid care (care valued at $210.5 billion). The reality is that people 65 and older who have Alzheimer’s survive on average four to eight years after diagnosis, and some live as long as 20 years. No wonder caregivers report a high level of stress and depression. Alzheimer’s can’t wait.
There is, however, good reason to hope. In 2012, the first National Alzheimer’s Plan was initiated, with the challenging goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025. Increased funding toward research, awareness, education, outreach and caregiver support was most welcome.
Massachusetts released its own plan in February of this year. Among its aims is to create a statewide infrastructure for enhanced quality of services. And in Vancouver earlier this summer, more than 4,300 scientists, physicians and other professionals from the international community came together to share the results of a wide range of research projects, with several new treatments looking promising.
Locally, the Berkshire Alzheimer’s Partnership has been raising awareness and funds to increase resources right here at home by hosting events year round.
So how do we keep the momentum going? The easiest -- and most fun way -- is to join the Alzheimer’s Association’s Berkshire Walk to End Alzheimer’s, coming up on Saturday, Sept. 29. It is one of hundreds across the country. This annual event is the nation’s largest to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. It is where we in the Berkshires come together to show our strength in numbers, our community heart and soul, and our conviction that we will prevail over this dreaded disease.
Registration starts at 8 a.m. under the tents on Farnams Causeway in Cheshire. Warm up for the Walk with a quick yoga session by the lake, have a coffee and some breakfast refreshments, and personalize a flower for the Promise Garden. After walking the distance of your choice on the Ashuwillticook Trail, it’s back to the causeway for a barbecue, complements of Hillcrest Commons, and a concert by David Grover and by the band Rebel Alliance. Bowey the Clown will be there with his balloon magic, and see how many pets "go purple" for this year’s Walk! Visit our exhibitors for Alzheimer’s resources and information.
You can pre-register by phone or online: 413-499-0691 or www.alzwalkMANH.org. Come on out this Saturday and show your support. Alzheimer’s can’t wait.
The author is co-chair of the 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer’s, a founding member of the Berkshire Alzheimer’s Partner ship, former board member of the MA/NH Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and current board member of Elder Services of Berkshire County.