Friday, February 13, 2015

Alzheimer’s: The Triple Threat

Alzheimer’s disease is a looming threat to each of us and to our government. In fact, it is a triple threat.

Threat #1: Soaring Prevalence. Every 67 seconds a person in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. More than five million Americans currently are living with Alzheimer’s. As the baby boomers age the prevalence of Alzheimer’s will skyrocket. Left unchecked, we could be looking at 16 million people with the disease by 2050. Don’t know about you, but that darn near scares the bejesus out of me.

Threat #2: Lack of Treatment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It is the only disease in the top ten without an effective treatment or a cure. We seem to be headed in the right direction with the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act which means the research budget is scientist driven. The goal is to move toward the National Alzheimer’s Plan with its goal of finding an effective treatment or a cure by 2025. Some recent studies are promising!

Threat #3: Enormous Costs. Alzheimer’s has a reputation for being the most expensive disease for a reason. It is! The cost to Medicaid is $37 billion and Medicare is $113 billion, or one in five Medicare dollars. I can’t quite wrap my mind around those staggering numbers. Families provide an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care. In 2014, the out of pocket expense to American families to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s was estimated to be $36 billion. Additional costs hit family budgets hard. Even with health insurance and a division of assets that meant Medicaid picked up part of Jim’s nursing home, the disease drained our resources. Jim’s Veteran’s check and social security check went to the nursing home. The extras I bought for him cost much more than the $25 a month allowance from his checks.

When faced with a threat, humans have an instinct of either “flight” or “fight.” Which do you have? If you fall into the “flight” camp, you just ignore the disease and figure that it isn’t going to happen to you or someone you love. You don’t bother to do anything about it. Maybe not because you don’t care, but you just don’t have time, or money, or motivation.

If you are like me, you plan to “fight” with all you have. You walk the walk and talk the talk. You participate in Walk to End Alzheimer’s, or at least support someone who does, and you become an advocate. You spread the word and email a legislator from time to time. You become a "Voice" for Alzheimer’s.

Last night I listened to an ambassador call, “Changing the Trajectory of Alzheimer’s Disease.” The moderators mentioned three ways to help us move the Alzheimer’s mission forward. They called them the three “F’s.”

First, we need Fighters! These are the Champions who visit, email, call, and generally pester their legislators about Alzheimer’s legislation. They are ambassadors, board members, and volunteers who faithfully give their time and resources.

Second, we need Faces. A personal story, a picture, or a person in front of a legislator takes the abstract and makes it a reality! Whether you are visiting your state or U.S. legislators, the most important thing you can bring as an advocate is your story to make it personal and real. You need to condense the story to keep it on point and brief, but tell it from the heart.

The third part is to share the Facts. The facts are scary! The facts are sobering. You don’t have to memorize the facts, but you need to share them. The best way to lay out the facts is to verbalize a few key facts and leave a handout behind with the details.

We have our work cut out for us if we intend to neutralize the triple threat of Alzheimer’s and change the trajectory of the disease. I hope you choose to join the fight.

Copyright © February 2015 by L.S. Fisher
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