Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Boomer Report: Grim Reading

I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning with my mind spinning about another storm on the horizon, something important I should have done Friday, and my escalating To-Do List. Today should be a fun day for my sisters and me to celebrate Mom’s 84th birthday. My alarm was set for 7 a.m.—late enough to catch up on my sleep, but early enough to meet up with my family. I tossed and turned for about an hour and decided to just get up.

Might as well go for the middle of the night awakening whole heartedly, so I put on a pot of coffee and sat down to catch up on some reading. I read the latest Missouri Conservation Magazine cover-to-cover. Then, as the first streaks of dawn lit up the sky, I turned on my netbook to read the Alzheimer’s Association’s Boomer Report I had downloaded a few days ago.

As a longtime advocate, the information in the report was familiar to me. Each year we get an advocates guide that tells us that Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death, and that it is the only disease in the top 10 without prevention, treatment, or hope of a cure. As an advocate, I also knew that the government’s research investment in Alzheimer’s is $480 million per year compared to $3 billion for HIV/AIDS, $4 billion for heart disease and $6 billion for cancer.

This report is written for boomers. We boomers are the pragmatic generation that never wanted the truth sugarcoated. We grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation and bought the records to make Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” a #1 Billboard hit.

It takes a lot to scare a boomer, but the title of this report—Generation Alzheimer’s: the defining disease of the baby boomers—seems pretty scary to me. I find the statistics alarming now, but when you see what they will become without a cure it offers up a bleak future to 10 million of us boomers.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s is exhausting, emotionally draining, and expensive. For every $100 the government spends on Alzheimer’s research, they spend $25,000 on care.

With the economy, $172 billion spent on caring for people with Alzheimer’s seems like a strain on the budget, but it comes breaking apart at the seams with a projected $1 trillion cost by 2050. A person with Alzheimer’s costs Medicare three times more and Medicaid six times more. Only 4% of 80-year-old Americans need long term care, but when a person of that age group has Alzheimer’s, 75% of them will require nursing home care.

Yes, I knew all the statistics so I’m not sure why I found the report so depressing today. Maybe it’s because as a boomer I know how we learned to overcome our fears and tended to think ourselves invincible. At least we always thought that maybe bad things happened to other people while we continue to cruise through life on a wish and a prayer.

Maybe my depression comes from the thought that although millions of us know how life changing Alzheimer’s is for the person with the disease and their family circle, we cannot motivate enough advocates to get an increase in research dollars. We boomers have made an impact on the world throughout our entire lives. We strained the education system, we flooded the job market, and now we threaten to bring on an economic and emotional crisis as we age.

Rather than being the generation defined by Alzheimer’s, we could be the generation that defeats Alzheimer’s. It isn’t going to happen through protest songs. It’s going to happen only if we have enough advocates to take up the banner and deliver the message to congress as often as it takes. We boomers need to take advantage of our numbers to brighten the future. We have to pool our stubbornness and stick-to-itiveness until we get the job done.

Copyright © Jan 2011 L. S. Fisher
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