On Oct. 22, 1982, President Ronald Reagan invited representatives from the newly formed Alzheimers Association to the White House to attend his signing of a proclamation designating Nov. 21-27 as National Alzheimers Disease Week. A year later, he would proclaim November National Alzheimers Disease Month.
In doing so, President Reagan became the first political figure to draw the attention of the American people and the scientific community to a puzzling and little-known disease that ravages the brain.
The anniversary of the signing of this first presidential proclamation is a reminder of how much progress we have made in understanding Alzheimers, and supporting people with the disease and their families.
Indeed, we have come a long way in 20 years. In 1982, fewer than 250 scientific articles of Alzheimers disease and dementia were published worldwide. Only a handful of scientists were studying the disease. This year, more than 3,000 articles on Alzheimers appeared in scientific journals around the world.
In July, nearly 4,000 scientists traveled to Stockholm to present, discuss and debate research findings at the Alzheimers Associations Eighth International Conference on Alzheimers Disease and Related Disorders.
Thanks in part to the work of these dedicated scientists, we know more about Alzheimers today than in the past. Research suggests that diet, nutrition, body weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure may play a role in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimers.
Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, researchers can now highlight amyloid plaques in the brains of individuals in the early stages of the disease. These plaques are the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimers. This imaging technology will help scientists monitor the progression of the disease and determine the effectiveness of treatments.
Before this discovery, these plaques could be identified only through autopsy. Four drugs have been approved to treat Alzheimers, and several more are being tested.
Currently, 4 million Americans live with Alzheimers, of which approximately 9,300 are from our region. By 2050, that number is expected to exceed 14 million. To quote President Reagan, research holds the promise of hope. That is why the Alzheimers Associa-tion has asked Congress and the Bush administration to increase federal funding of research from $600 million to $1 billion a year.
The fight against Alzheimers disease needs many allies, President Reagan said in 1982. Today, another generation of Americans is waging their own daily fight with Alzheimers still needs allies.
In 1979, only five family support groups existed nationwide to help people cope with the diagnosis of Alzheimers. Those support groups grew into todays Alzheimers Asso-ciation and its national network of chapters. Currently, there are 13 support groups locally. In addition, our office provides telephone care consultation and caregiver education and training. We have a lending library of books and videos, as well as informational material or speakers to provide for community affairs.
Our other services include a Safe Return program to assist in providing a safe return for those who may have wandered away, and a Voucher Program to assist families in paying for the services and supplies incurred with caregiving.
We will continue to be an ally to anyone battling Azheimers and to all those caring for them.
(Stacie Adkins is director of development for the Augusta office of the Georgia Alzheimers Association. The office may be contacted at 731-9060; the Alzheimers Associations 24-hour helpline is available at (800) 236-0688.)
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