Seniors: Alzheimer’s disease is the nation’s sixth leading cause of death

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A team at the Alzheimer's Association's 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer's. (Courtesy Photo)
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By Cindy Leach Schelhorn

“My grandma has dementia. She can’t read or play with us like she used to. It makes me sad. I want the scientists and doctors to figure out how to stop this disease and give the cure to my grandma so we can have fun together again.” – Marie, age 9

About 5.8 million Americans – including 200,000 under the age of 65 – are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the nation’s sixth leading cause of death and the only top 10 cause that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, a disease that kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

“At the age of 53, my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My children were 8, 12 and 20. I became the decision maker, breadwinner and caregiver. Our hopes and dreams for the future were no longer applicable.” – Sarah

More than 16 million Americans – mostly family members and friends – provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Nearly two-thirds of caregivers are women. Approximately one quarter are “sandwich generation” caregivers, who care for both someone with the disease and a child or grandchild.

“My mother passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Despite retirement pensions, private and federal government health coverage and three children contributing both financially and emotionally, my parents had to declare bankruptcy due to mounting medical bills. It’s a disease that impacts the entire family economically, physically and emotionally”. – Shannon

Dementia is one of the most costly conditions to society. Total annual payments for health care, longterm care and hospice care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are projected to increase from $290 billion in 2019 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2050. This dramatic rise includes more than four-fold increases both in government spending under Medicare and Medicaid and in out-of-pocket spending.

“My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s soon after my son was born. When you have a parent with this disease, you can’t help but think, ‘Am I next?’ Then, you look at your children and think, ‘What about them? Will we find a cure in time for them?’” – Stan

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its free resources include a 24/7 help-line, comprehensive online tools and in-person and web-based education programs and support groups. As the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research, the association works to accelerate the global progress of new treatments, preventions and ultimately, a cure. Learn more at alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

The writer is senior director of communications and marketing for the Alzheimer’s Association’s National Capital Area Chapter.

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