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In the United States, 5.4 million people currently are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
That’s a concern because of the impact of the disease, the first signs of which are memory loss as nerve cells die and the brain shrinks.
“It is progressive, degenerative and fatal,” according to Harry Johns, president and CEO of the national Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
Here is the larger concern: An estimated 16 million people in the U.S. will have Alzheimer’s by 2050, Johns said. The increase is due to better diagnosis and an aging Baby Boomer population. Older age is the number one cause of Alzheimer’s, and people are living longer, experts say.
However, genetic factors can increase a person’s risk; African-Americans and Hispanics are at greater risk. A traumatic brain injury increases the risk, too.
Unlike for some forms of cancer, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Yet.
The disease and its impact are so important that the federal government has passed a national plan for fighting them, and added $50 million to this year’s budget and has proposed an additional $100 million for next year’s, largely to fund Alzheimer’s research. The plan’s goal is to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025.
Johns said the extra funding for research is important because increases in funding previously for cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS have produced huge gains in treatments and cures.
The Alzheimer’s community is awaiting the results of several potential treatment drugs that are in their final stages of clinical trials.
These were just a handful of facts I learned during a four-day program on Alzheimer’s I attended in Washington, thanks to a fellowship from the National Press Foundation.
We heard 13 presentations over the four days, which covered almost every aspect of the disease: What it is; who is at risk; what are the symptoms, the impact on caregivers, the financial impact, ethical issues and research, among others.
The goal of my participation was to come away with ideas for stories we can localize on the disease.
In the coming months, The Republic will work to produce stories that will inform you and make you think. That’s because Alzheimer’s is a disease that touches many people either directly or indirectly. And, it touches the famous and the ordinary. Recently, country music singer Glen Campbell and University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit have shared that they suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Another thing I took away from the Alzheimer’s program is that the willingness of people to share their experiences is important. The more people know about Alzheimer’s, the more that can be done for the people it affects.
I welcome any suggestions you, our readers, have about Alzheimer’s as we delve into our reporting. I also welcome any experiences you would like to share.
Kirk Johannesen is special projects editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5639 or email@example.com.
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