December 16, 2017

Guest Column

Funding boost is weak effort

By Dwayne J. Clark

In February 2012, President Obama announced that he will boost funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease by $130 million—a 25 percent increase over the next two years, according to the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders-University of California Irvine.

I applaud his intent but the effort is weak.

5.4 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the problem will only get worse. Every 68 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s in the United States, and by mid-century it will increase to 33 seconds. If you are privileged to be 65 years old or older, it will be your fifth leading cause of death by disease. If you are 85 years old or older, you have a 50 percent chance of getting the disease. Here is the whopper—currently about $200 billion is spent on Alzheimer’s care and over the next 40 years the disease will cost Americans $20 trillion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Increasing funding by 25 percent is akin to putting a penny in front of a full-on fire hose and expecting the water to stop flowing.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s does not get the kind of press that cancer or AIDS does. Some would say that is because it’s a disease of the elderly. Others add that the elderly have led their lives; we can’t spend valuable money on people who will probably die of some other illness if they didn’t have Alzheimer’s. Well maybe, or maybe this is the first step toward better longevity for Americans in general.

Keep in mind that there are 200,000 people with early onset dementia (people who develop the disease before the age of 65). A friend contacted me about his wife. She was 50 years old, an incredible beach volleyball player, ran a marathon three months earlier, and bam, she was diagnosed with early onset dementia.  When we met, shortly after her diagnosis, she looked like she could be a cover girl for a women’s health magazine. Two years later, she can’t feed herself. This is getting more common than we would like to admit.

I watched my own mother develop Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. She was pulling slot machines and dancing the night away on her 80th birthday in Las Vegas. Two years later, at the age of 82, she was ravaged by the disease and residing in the assisted living company I own.

I have seen thousands suffer with Alzheimer’s through the course of my career in senior housing. This disease not only cripples the person to the point that her brain can’t tell the lungs to breathe or the throat to swallow, it has much larger ramifications. This disease at some point hits the “Delete Button” on your life.  You have no memories, no history, no relationships, no YOU. The victim is not the only person who has the disease—it affects all those that have loved that person and shared that person’s life.

It is time we stop thinking about this as an “old person’s disease” and start thinking about it as a disease with incredible ramifications for quality of life. We have to pull our heads out of the sand on this one because soon enough you and I will be those “old people.”

Dwayne J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, currently with 28 senior living communities in Washington, California, and Nevada, and the author of “My Mother, My Son: A true story of love, determination, and memories…lost” (2012, www.mymothermyson.com

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