Alzheimer’sresearch gaining momentum

6th leading cause of death nationwide

09/17/2013 5:48 PM

09/17/2013 5:49 PM

Editorial | Myrtle Beach area marks Alzheimer’s month with workshops, fundraisers

It’s probably not surprising that close to a quarter (about 22 percent) of Americans say Alzheimer’s is the disease they most fear. It’s “the second most feared disease -- behind only cancer,’’ according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The “fear is even prevalent among younger adults,’’ with one in 10 of younger Americans (ages 18-34) being worried they some day will have the disease. A survey of public perceptions and awareness of Alzheimer’s by the Harvard School of Public Health shows “most Americans want to know if they have Alzheimer’s disease ... but half or more of Americans with Alzheimer’s do not know they have the disease.’’

Such statistics about a disease that continues to claim victims worldwide and in our area may not be shocking, but September, designated as World Alzheimer’s Month, is a good time to consider the progress being made and the challenges that remain.

The month is set aside to mark “an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge stigma,” says Beth Sulkowski of the Alzheimer’s Association’s S.C. chapter.

Worldwide, 35.6 million people were estimated to be living with dementia in 2010, Sulokowski says. The S.C. Alzheimer’s Disease Registry shows 3,402 people in Horry County and 1,256 in Georgetown County have Alzheimer’s or related dementia. The state total is 80,000, or, roughly the seating capacity of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

The state has the 10th highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America, claiming 1,570 lives in 2010, Since 2000, the number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s has increased 80 percent. That spike is related to overall increased awareness and better reporting. Such numbers and overall data on Alzheimer’ perhaps will help in better funding.

“Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., yet it is chronically underfunded at the National Institutes of Health. NIH research investments in other conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular disease, are paying off,” Sulkowski says. “This proven approach should be applied to Alzheimer’s.’’

“There is great momentum in research [worldwide] to better understand and treat Alzheimer’s.’’ The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July had some 1,800 scientific presentations and was attended by nearly 5,000 experts and researchers from 66 countries.

The monetary cost of Alzheimer’s already is greater than the cost of heart disease and cancer and according to a report in The New York Times is “... skyrocketing at a rate that rarely occurs with a chronic disease.’’ The cost of caring for over 5 million Americans with Alzheimer’s “is estimated to total $203 billion in 2013, increasing to $1.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) by mid-century,’’ according to statistics of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Early, documented diagnosis “leads to better outcomes for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.’’ Let us not forget the caregivers. We have no doubt that the fear of having Alzheimer’s, especially among younger adults, stems from observing the stress and emotional suffering of caregivers looking after loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Our area is lucky to have active access to upcoming workshops aimed at those caregivers, and it’s lucky to have a population active in events to raise awareness and raise funds for research. For information on such workshops or an upcoming fund-raising event, see the box packaged with this editorial.

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