The End of Alzheimer’s Starts with Me,” our slogan says, and I will fight every day for the millions of Americans who today are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and all those that will be diagnosed in future tomorrows.
Because of the soaring global prevalence and costs of Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer’s Association is observing the inaugural World Alzheimer’s Month this month. More than 35 million people are living with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 15 million unpaid Alzheimer’s caregivers in the United States.
A new report released Sept. 13 by Alzheimer’s Disease International recommends that every country develop a national dementia strategy that promotes early diagnosis and intervention. According to ADI, key pillars should include:
• raising awareness of the value of early detection and available interventions;
• strengthening the medical and service infrastructure;
• funding Alzheimer’s/dementia research – especially randomized controlled trials to test the efficacy of interventions specifically tailored to those with early-stage dementia.
THE REPORT ALSO confirms a grave, worldwide “treatment gap” in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. There is an overwhelming difference between the number of people with the disease and those who have a formal diagnosis, with undiagnosed cases ranging from 20 percent in some countries to 90 percent in others.
A formal and documented diagnosis helps the individual and their family expect and explain behaviors, open doors to vital care and support services – including the option of participating in clinical trials. Memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging. It may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Treating this memory loss as just normal denies the person and their family access to appropriate health-care, information and support.
The Alzheimer’s Association supports ADI’s call in the report for every country to have a national Alzheimer’s plan that promotes early diagnosis and treatment. The National Alzheimer’s Project Act was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama last Jan. 4. In August, a town hall public input session was held in Augusta. The issues raised by ADI were addressed by many of the caregivers who spoke – increasing and raising awareness of available options for people with Alzheimer’s, expanding services, educating medical professionals and other professionals about Alzheimer’s, strengthening the medical infrastructure and funding more Alzheimer’s research.
WE MUST MAKE Alzheimer’s a national priority. We have the potential and we have the will to create the same success that has been demonstrated in the fight against other diseases. As a nation we committed to fight other major diseases such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer and stroke, and have now lowered the number of deaths from them.
The end of Alzheimer’s has to start now. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us. We invite everyone to join the Alzheimer’s Association in raising awareness about Alzheimer’s by declaring “The End of Alzheimer’s Starts with Me” and going purple Sept. 21, 2011 – Alzheimer’s Action Day!
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia; to volunteer; to join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s; or to donate, call (800) 272-3900, or visit www.alz.org/georgia.
(The writer is program and services director for the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter, Augusta Region.)