VOICES: Leaders need to support those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers

Credit: Mark Skalny

Credit: Mark Skalny

The past 20 months have been extremely challenging for most Americans. Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact a person’s memory, mood and level of anxiety. For those who are caregivers, especially those who care for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, those challenges have been even greater.

Today, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including an estimated 220,000 in Ohio. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in our nation and kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer – combined. It is also one of our nation’s most expensive diseases, with a total cost of nearly $355 billion last year.

As the number of those with Alzheimer’s continues to grow, most primary care physicians believe that the medical profession is not ready for the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. We must do something before our healthcare system is overwhelmed.

We must also do more to support our caregivers. Last year, an estimated 11 million Alzheimer’s caregivers provided more than 15 billion hours of unpaid care to a spouse, parent, family member or friend. Studies continue to show that Alzheimer’s caregivers face higher rates of depression, anxiety and physical illness than other caregivers.

November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. It is therefore an appropriate time for our leaders to focus on ways to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

I encourage Ohio’s congressional leaders, including Rep. Mike Turner, Rep. Warren Davidson and Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, to support increased federal funding for Alzheimer’s research as well as passage of the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Act (S. 56 / H.R. 1474) and the Comprehensive Care for Alzheimer’s Act (H.R. 2517 / S. 1125) that would create a dementia care management model for those diagnosed and living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Through this needed legislation, and by applying a public health approach to reduce risk, detect early symptoms and support caregivers, Congress can continue to change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease affects millions. And as our nation’s senior population continues to grow, those numbers will more than double within the next 30 years. For the sake of those living with Alzheimer’s and all other dementia, and the sake of generations to come, we must do more - now.

Eric VanVlymen is Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter.

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