Unless a cure is found, it is going to have a disastrous impact on all of us in some way.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Alzheimer’s disease”? Is it the scene from The Notebook where Allie suddenly remembers Noah is her husband, but minutes later is startled and confused when he calls her darling? Is it your beloved grandmother forgetting your name at the last family gathering? Is it a family member who has completely lost sense of who they are?
While some of these are accurate depictions of the disease, many people fail to understand what Alzheimer’s actually is. For diagnosed individuals, it is so much more than a little memory loss.
A Bleak Reality
Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal type of dementia—and the most common type—that robs families of their loved ones. Its symptoms get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with thinking, eating, taking care of oneself and eventually living. If you have watched a loved one grapple with the severe outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease, you know the emotional pain and grief it can inflict on families.
The bleak reality is this: unless a cure is found, it is going to have a disastrous impact on all of us in some way. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. While deaths from other major causes have declined significantly, official records indicate that deaths from Alzheimer's disease have done just the opposite. Between 2000 and 2014, deaths from Alzheimer's disease increased 89 percent, while deaths from the number-one cause of death, heart disease, decreased 14 percent. Without any way to prevent, cure or even slow down the progression, the number of people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease could nearly triple: from 5.5 million in 2017 to 16 million by 2050.
These are not just statistics. These are people: our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors and co-workers, who eventually lose their lives to this undignified disease.
Support and Advocacy
Alzheimer’s disease not only takes a hold of the person diagnosed—it also takes a massive toll on the families, caregivers and friends of those with dementia, who are at the center of this devastating crisis. In Illinois alone, there are 588,000 people providing over 670 million hours of unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The cost of this care is valued at more than $8 billion.
Dementia caregivers tend to provide more care, which is wide-ranging and in some instances all-encompassing, for longer durations than those who serve older adults in other conditions. The effects of being a family caregiver are generally negative, with high rates of social isolation, psychological difficulty and financial hardships—leaving caregivers vulnerable to further emotional and physical grief.
Having a place for all those affected by this disease to turn for information, care and support can drastically improve the quality of life for all involved. At the Alzheimer’s Association, we provide that support, and we are working diligently to end the disease so families no longer have to bear the burden of losing a loved one. Until that day comes, we continue to advance research, advocate and raise awareness on behalf of those who no longer have a voice.
As we move into 2018, we encourage communities across Illinois to help eliminate this devastating disease. It’s a disease that one day could affect you. But if we rally together, we can achieve a world without Alzheimer’s in the future. iBi
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, or to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter, visit alz.org/illinois, call (309) 681-1100 or visit the Peoria office at 614 W. Glen Avenue.