By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
This year, the Baby Boomer generation begins to turn 65, entering the high-risk years of obtaining Alzheimer’s disease. One in eight Baby Boomers will develop the brain altering disease, yet our nation currently lacks an answer to overcoming the escalating epidemic.
Five medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Although, on average, all are reportedly effective for only six to 12 months for about half of those who take them. Research is not complete on the subject and every case is different. Current medications can only help mask the symptoms and cannot treat the underlying disease.
“If you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s because everybody varies so much,” said Teri Shirk, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) for Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Medications delay the cell damage that takes place in an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain. The symptoms of cell damage are caused by a disruption in neurotransmitters that damage the brain’s communication network. The five drugs approved include Tacrine, approved in 1993 by the FDA for mild to moderate symptoms; Donepezil, approved in 1996 for all stages of the disease; Rivastigmine, approved in 2000 for mild to moderate symptoms; and Memantine, approved in 2003 for moderate to severe symptoms.
“Someone living with Alzheimer’s is typically going to live four to eight years after diagnosis,” Shirk said.
With medication, Shirk said, it’s possible for patients to live up to 20 years after diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean the onset of symptoms will not progress in the same manner. About 75 percent of those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s end up receiving care at a nursing home. Although, typically they do not check in until the late stages.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in June 2011, 47 percent of all nursing home residents had been diagnosed with dementia. Total payments for health care, long-term care and hospice for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are projected to increase from $200 billion in 2012 to $1.1 trillion in 2050. The dramatic rise encompasses a six-fold increase in government spending under Medicare and Medicaid and a five-fold increase in out-of-pocket spending.
“We are fundraising constantly to support research,” Shirk said. “We know that if money is put into research for Alzheimer’s disease, you will see a change in the trajectory of the disease.”
On board to battle the disease nationally is President Barack Obama, who signed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in 2011, passed by Congress in 2010. The plan is to establish an inter-agency advisory council to address the government’s efforts on Alzheimer’s research, care, institutional services and home and community based programs.
“At the federal level, we are pushing Congress and the president to realize we have to make changes to gain knowledge and make changes in Alzheimer’s. If we don’t invest money now in research, this disease is going to get away from us in a way we are not going to recover financially from the impact,” Shirk said.
“We are constantly vigilant.”
On May 22 from 1 to 1:30 p.m. at the Cumberland Valley Area Development District, the Alzheimer’s Association will host a legal and financial planning workshop in London. Visit www.alz.org for more updates and information.
This is Part 3 of a three-part series.