Twenty years ago this month, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation designating November National Alzheimer's Disease Month.
In doing so, President Reagan became the first political figure to illuminate the plight to the American people and scientific community of those that suffered from this puzzling and little known disease that destroys the brain.
The anniversary of the signing of this presidential proclamation is a reminder of how much progress we have made in understanding the disease, while supporting people with the disease and their families. It is also a reminder of how much further progress is needed.
Yes, we have come a long way in 20 years. Thanks in large part to the work of dedicated scientists; we know more about Alzheimer's today than in the past. Research suggests that diet, nutrition, body weight, cholesterol and blood pressure levels may play a role in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer's. Currently, five drugs, including the newest drug released by the FDA, Memantine, have been approved to treat Alzheimer's, and several more are being tested. While these drugs do delay, there is still no cure.
The Reagan family has been one of the Alzheimer's Association's most effective partners in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. In 1995, the Reagans joined forces with the Association to fund Alzheimer research through the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute. Through the Reagan Institute, the Association has awarded over $12 million to research the causes and potential treatments of Alzheimer's disease. To quote President Reagan, "research holds the promise of hope." And that is why the Alzheimer's Association has asked Congress and the Bush administration to increase federal funding of Alzheimer research from its current level of nearly $600 million to $1 billion a year.
Approximately 4.5 million Ameri-cans currently live with Alzheimer's, of which 140,000 are Georgians and 9,300 live within the CSRa. With baby-boomers' life expectancy increasing, by 2050 that number is expected to exceed 14 million.
The Alzheimer's Association has developed 10 warning signs to help people recognize symptoms of dementia - memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality, and loss of initiative.
In 1979, only five family support groups existed nationwide to help people cope with the diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Those support groups grew into today's Alzheimer's Association and its national network of chapters. Locally, 14 support groups are offered, with three in Columbia County. These support groups serve as the foundation of the services provided by the Augusta Regional Office.
In addition to the support groups, we provide telephone care consultation, referral and disease information, caregiver/professional education and training, Safe Return, and two financial assistance programs, the Caring Closet and Caregiver's TimeOut. We will continue to be an ally to anyone battling Alzheimer's and to all those caring for them. If you would like more information regarding these services or would like to make a donation, please call 731-9060.
(Stacie Adkins is development director for the Alzheimer's Association Augusta Regional Office.)
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