August 1, 2014 10:28:14 AM
As part of my active (as opposed to financial) volunteer pledge this year I have chosen to work with the Alzheimer's Walk scheduled for Oct. 12. Medical literature distinguishes between the types of dementia, but the details of the ravages of this ever more common disease are astounding.
That involvement plus a birthday have led me to reflect on the unavoidable vicissitudes of aging.
I ran into a long-time friend in the Walmart parking lot last weekend. If you haven't seen someone in a while just hang around Walmart for a day or so, and they will inevitably show up. Anyway, he is my father's vintage and looks wonderful. He does not physically show his 90 years but as we were chatting he was sharing with me some details about the difficulty of aging.
He was bragging that he remembered who I was, but not surprisingly, memory loss has been an issue. More interestingly, he has lost the sense of smell and with that the sense of taste. This was a revelation to me since I hadn't contemplated that as a part of the aging process. I googled it and sure enough loss of the sense of smell is generally an issue of aging.
Of course with the sense of smell gone, the taste buds have little they can rely on for feedback so they are limited in their options to salty, sweet, sour and bitter flavors. I wasn't sure whether to rejoice that eating wouldn't be such a focal point and I might shed a few extra pounds, or be devastated that my favorite meal might not be so wonderful any more.
As he described it, aging is not for the faint of heart. As we get further and further into the baby boomers' senior years, the prospects are grim indeed. The boomers are commonly thought of as the birth years from 1946 to 1964. Those of us who insist on driving and don't have competent children or caregivers to take away the keys may make our streets look like a carnival bumper car ride.
Twelve percent of those 65 or older currently have Alzheimer's. That is projected to increase to 27 percent by the year 2025. Alzheimer's impacts women much more so than men. Most of the caregivers tend to be women while 2/3 of those with the disease itself are also women.
The emphasis on breast cancer and the strides that have been made are extraordinary and successful. Diagnosis and treatment are well advanced through the efforts of dedicated victims and family members. Now it is time to take on Alzheimer's with the same zeal.
Women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's over the age of 65 as they are to develop breast cancer. Not to make light of breast cancer, but if you ask me which I would choose to keep, boobs or brains, I go with brains every time. It is time we paid attention to and gave significant funds for Alzheimer's research.
Over the age of 85, an estimated one of every three has Alzheimer's. Astounding. This is not just an old person's problem. What is the prognosis for our children and grandchildren if they have to care for their senior family members? The cost of medical care for dementia patients of any kind is three times higher than any other age-related medical cost.
Without a means of prevention or a cure, all of the data says dementia and particularly Alzheimer's has the potential to bankrupt our health care system with a projected 500-percent increase within the next 35 years. If not a drain on our national healthcare system then it will be a drain on the family healthcare resources.
It strains the imagination to believe the brain trust we have dedicated to medical research cannot find the means to block the development of this disease and/or find a cure. While the percentage of deaths from all the other major causes have decreased since 2000, the change in the number of deaths from Alzheimer's is up 68 percent. Those numbers have to go down or else we may continue to exist and breathe more years but our ability to live productive and enjoyable lives will be questionable.
It makes good economic sense, it makes good medical sense and most of all it makes good people sense to put Alzheimer's to the forefront of the funding for research programming. It takes awareness and support from victims and families of victims to make that happen. As of now there is no successful treatment and certainly no cure. This is simply unacceptable.
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3. Michael Gerson: Leaving the harder path NATIONAL COLUMNS