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In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. At the time, fewer than 2 million Americans suffered from Alzheimer’s. Since then, that number has climbed substantially: nearly 5.4 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Disease, or AD, is a condition caused by changes in the brain that deeply affect memory and other mental abilities. As the individual’s mental capacity decreases, it offers increasing challenges both to the one with the disease and the loved ones who assume caretaking duties. Reagan’s decision to institute an awareness month for this disease helps call attention to it and the problems faced by those who suffer from it.
How It Started
As an increasing number of Americans are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, either as sufferers or as caregivers, it’s critically important to raise awareness about this disease and discuss its impact on the families impacted by it. Reagan acknowledged the suffering of families who watched their loved ones fade a bit further away every day. While at the time, a cure was a long way away, many strides have been made since 1983. Today, the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease seeks to find a cure by 2025. While the disease is still considered to be fatal, many strides in treatment have been made.
Many people are standing up for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and continuing to raise awareness about its symptoms, the diagnosis, and the issues faced by those who have it and their loved ones. Wearing purple for Alzheimer’s is considered to be a sign of support for sufferers and their families. Raising awareness also takes on several other facets: increasing funding to research, improving the understanding of brain functioning, and offering tangible support to families who take care of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. Awareness is critical, not only for helping families, but for raising funding for the research to help find a cure.
As the aging population increases, the number of patients with Alzheimer’s increases along with it. Alzheimer’s Disease occurs primarily in the elderly. The older a patient is, the greater the odds that they will suffer from Alzheimer’s: one in nine people over the age of 65 is estimated to have the disease. That increase in age isn’t necessarily the only thing that signifies an individual’s odds of contracting Alzheimer’s, however: it’s estimated that over half a million individuals under the age of 65 already suffer from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Family caregivers often spend as much as $5,000 a year caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s.
Honoring Family Caregivers
For most individuals with Alzheimer’s, particularly in the early stages of the disease, family caregivers are the ones who provide the majority of the care. This means sacrificing time, money, and energy. In 2015 alone, it’s estimated that there were 15.9 million Americans providing caregiving duties for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, including an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care. 41% of those caregivers are estimated to have a household income that is less than the national average of $40,000 per year, which means that caregiving often comes at a substantial sacrifice. 74% of caregivers also report that they have some level of concern about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver due to the strain placed on them by those responsibilities. Nevertheless, family caregivers continue to give their all to family members who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a difficult and often thankless job, particularly as memory and cognitive function decrease, but love provides the incentive they need.
An aging population means that an increased number of cases of Alzheimer’s Disease are coming to light. It’s clear that a deeper understanding of this disease is increasingly necessary. Not only that, the aging population will require continuing care, including services that are put in place to ensure that both those diagnosed with the disease and their family members receive the support they need during this difficult stage of life. November is the month that you can get involved! Help raise awareness and add your support to individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s this month.