November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. In 1983 when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November to be Alzheimer's Awareness month, 2 million Americans had the disease. Today, that number has soared to 5.2 million and is expected to grow to 16 million by 2050.
Today, about 200,000 Georgians -including 12,000 Augusta-area residents, and 1,200 Columbia County residents - have Alzheimer's disease. Chances are you know someone with the disease or someone who is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease.
In 1983, President Reagan said, "The emotional, financial and social consequence of Alzheimer's disease are so devastating that it deserves special attention." Taking the lead on the issue, he went on to advocate research as "the only hope for victims and families." Reagan courageously announced his own Alzheimer's diagnosis to the public in November 1994, and passed away in 2003.
Alzheimer's is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every 71 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's disease. Without a cure, that number will increase to every 33 seconds by mid-century. One in six women and one in 10 men who reach age 55 can expect to develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime. Ten million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's disease in the United States.
There are no survivors of Alzheimer's disease. No one can stand up and say, "I survived Alzheimer's disease." So we need to be the voice and the agent of change.
This year, we have seen the United States Postal Service join the fight to bring awareness of the disease to the public. The first ever Alzheimer's stamp has been issued and is now available. The next time you need stamps, ask for the Alzheimer's stamp. There is no extra charge.
This is a step in the right direction. Awareness brings advocacy. Advocacy brings research funding and programs and services for those in the journey of Alzheimer's disease.
Each day, I speak to caregivers seeking answers, seeking assistance, and often just wanting to talk with someone who understands. I speak to people with Alzheimer's disease who know there is no cure. Many are willing to participate in clinical trials that might not help them, but might help their children and you and me. These are all courageous and very special people.
The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. Our vision is "A World Without Alzheimer's." The local chapter provides assistance, which includes information and referral, care consultations, support groups, a lending library, a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week helpline, newsletters, and education programs and conferences.
The Augusta office has been serving this area for 25 years. We just completed two Powerful Tools for Caregivers education programs, have support group meetings, conduct memory screenings and other educational programs in Columbia County. We are here to help. No one needs to walk this journey alone.
While there is much we don't yet know about Alzheimer's disease, progress is being made, laying the foundation for future breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. But we must move faster. We need your voice. Phone us and sign up to be an advocate.
As Coach Frank Broyles, well-known football player, coach, athletic director, champion of the Alzheimer's Association and author of Coach Broyles' Playbook for Alzheimer's Caregivers says about Alzheimer's, "We are at the last two minutes of the ballgame. We need the two-minute offense."
Yes, we are at the one-yard line - and we must score. But it cannot be done with only one voice. Everyone needs to open their hearts and minds. We must win the battle against Alzheimer's.
Our future, the future of our children and the future of our healthcare system depends on us. Please call the Alzheimer's Association at 1-800-272-3900 and make your voice heard not only in November, but all year.
(Kathy Tuckey is program and services director for the Alzheimer's Association - East Central Georgia Region.)
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