Every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease, resulting in an astounding 5.4 million Americans currently living with the disease. And as more and more of the baby boomer generation reach 65 (when risk of the disease increases), that number is on a trajectory to increase exponentially.
Education level is a risk factor
Higher education has been linked to a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Some researchers believe that more education increases connections between the neurons in the brain, giving the brain alternate routes for completing cognitive tasks and helping compensate for the early changes experienced with Alzheimer’s. Other scientists attribute the higher risk in less educated populations to having occupations that are less mentally stimulating as well as the likelihood for poorer nutrition and reduced access to medical treatment for risk factors such as cardiovascular disease.
Alzheimer’s can kill you
One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. While Alzheimer’s alone kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined, often when Alzheimer’s victims pass away, another condition, such as a heart attack or pneumonia, is named as the cause of death. However, the root cause is generally the inability of the brain to control bodily functions needed for survival, including swallowing, breathing and even moving around to prevent infections and clots. In the words of someone suffering with the disease, “Our brain forgets to tell us how to stay alive.”
The costs in time and money are exorbitant
In 2015, more than 15 million caregivers spent an estimated 18.1 billion hours providing unpaid care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, with each also spending more than $5,000 of their own money to provide this care. To find these dollars in their budgets, caregivers often have to make financial sacrifices, not only giving up luxuries like vacations, but also essentials such as their own healthcare, children’s education and even food.
Bottom line, Alzheimer’s needs more funding!
Congress has committed $1 billion toward Alzheimer’s research in 2016. This $350 million increase over last year is a huge step forward; however, when you compare it to the $5.4 billion the government is spending on Ebola research and response, you’ll understand why Alzheimer’s advocates and caregivers feel overlooked and under-prioritized.
By replacing the heavy stigma of this disease, which has caused many families to remain quiet and passive in the face of this disease, with increased awareness and action, we can start to gain the attention of our lawmakers and work toward better treatment for Alzheimer’s, ways to slow its progression and ultimately, a cure for this devastating disease.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s, please visit alz.org/facts.
NOTE: Look for another Alzheimer’s post in May, culminating with a third post in June, which is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.
Share your experiences with Alzheimer’s.