Lifestyle

Alzheimer's disease isn't just an 'old person's desease'

By DICK LUNDGREN

Special to The Mirror

Current statistics show that between 4.5 million and 5 million people over age 65 in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease.

That is expected to grow to approximately 16 million by 2050. The number of cases in Washington (currently about 100,000) is expected to almost double by 2020, if no cure is found.

Not shown in these statistics are those that have been diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.

That is defined as people whose symptoms of the disease started before age 65.

There are cases where people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s have been diagnosed with the disease.

No one is keeping statistics on people diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s, but it is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 650,000 currently in the United States.

People with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s and their caregivers have unique needs and concerns. These people, their families and caregivers not only have to deal with the disease.

They also have trouble getting a diagnosis and obtaining Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income.

They are mostly considered “too young” to have Alzheimer’s.

They face the issues of lost income when the person with the disease can no longer work or the caregiver takes early retirement to take care of a spouse or loved one.

In a number of cases, they still have children at home, and this devastating disease takes a toll on them emotionally to watch mom or dad lose his or her cognitive functions, short-term memory and eventually can’t remember who anyone is.

I know these things from personal experience and the stories from caregivers in my support groups. My wife, Dorothee, was diagnosed five years ago with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 55. It took us 6 years and numerous doctors to get that diagnosis.

Her symptoms began to show when she was 49. We had issues with Medicare Part B, which through the help of Congressman Adam Smith were finally resolved.

In 2001, I resigned my regional manager position in California because I could no longer travel as extensively as the job required, due to the deteriorating condition of my wife.

I was fortunate that my employer moved me back to Washington state.

However, in late 2002, it was obvious that I had to hire someone to stay with my wife while I was at work or retire myself to take care of her. I retired March 1, 2003, at age 56.

Alzheimer’s disease is a growing epidemic and needs to be viewed as such.

It must become a priority of federal and state government to find a cure for this disease.

At a recent Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., it was noted that “34 percent of Medicare spending goes to beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s even though they only represent 12.8 percent of the population over age 65.”

Again, there is information on how much goes to people with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.

In 2005, Medicare spent $91 billion for Alzheimer’s.

That could increase to $182 billion in just four years and keep soaring as 14 million cases are diagnosed in the next 30 to 40 years.

The Alzheimer’s Association says “the future Medicare and Medicaid depends on getting Alzheimer’s disease under control.”

Auburn resident Dick Lundgren, an Alzheimer’s advocate, can be reached at aug4237@juno.com. Also visit www.opaandoma.us.

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