Alzheimer’s: Something to Campaign About

Plenty of people were celebrating the day after the election, but it wasn’t because of who won or lost. It meant the first full day of not having to read, watch or listen to those horrible campaign ads which grew in intensity and hostility as the election approached.Targeted in many of the ads were people who are 60 and older. There were a lot of scare tactics about how the opposition was going to trash their Social Security, heist their health care benefits or tax them into homelessness. People my age and older are the ones who can be counted on to vote, whether it’s an off-year election or one with all the stakes on the line. We’re the four-star voters. We still believe in the system.I look at the most faithful voters of all—the ones who came of age during World War II or the decade that followed—and see there are still a few of them left. Candidates could always rely on them to get out and vote, but so many have passed on or are in nursing or personal care environs without the wherewithal to vote or decide who they want to vote for.That brings me to an election issue that was barely addressed, and it might be the scariest one of all for people who are in their advancing years, as we like to say in trying to avoid the scariest word of all—old. Being old is not necessarily something you can measure by years, since some are old when they aren’t really that old at all and others are young at heart and keen of mind until the day they die. What are the politicians going to do about the greatest threat to the elderly population—dementia and its most brutal family member, Alzheimer’s Disease? One of every two Americans 85 years or older, according to the latest statistics, has the symptoms of dementia. Sixty-five and older is the fastest growing segment of our population.Campaign ads used scare tactics on this group most of all, but how many have you seen that address a proactive stance against Alzheimer’s or a health care approach that might ensure a higher quality of life for the oldest among us? They’ll scare you about paying more taxes or living a hand-to-mouth existence during your so-called golden years, but what good are saving a few tax dollars and questionable philosophical debates if you have become so incapacitated by Alzheimer’s that you really have no life at all, let alone something that could be defined as a lifestyle?Maybe I’m thinking about it more because I’m a baby boomer myself and that magic age of 65 is no longer so far off. Baby boomers are turning 65 at the rate of one every eight seconds, according to a recent New York Times commentary, and that is about the age when Alzheimer’s may be stalking you. Early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia may strike in late middle age, but your mid-sixties is indeed a time of life when you are most likely to face this incurable disease whose progress you may be able to slow but not stop.We spend something like 350 more times as much money to care for people with Alzheimer’s as we do in research and in trying to find a cure. Even holding the onset of the disease at bay for five years would free incredible space in our nursing homes. For the record, we are spending $172 billion a year to care for people with Alzheimer’s, and 10 years from now, based on the value of the dollar right now, the cost will skyrocket to $2 trillion. That’s a 2 with 12 zeroes, if that helps you wrap your mind around that number. A trillion square miles, for example, would equal the land surface of 20 planet Earths, or, in miles, 40 million trips around the equator.The commentary I referred to before was co-authored by a former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor; a Nobel Prize Winner in neurodegenerative diseases, Stanley Prusiner, and psychologist and renowned gerontologist, Ken Dychtwald. They are urging a national commitment to stemming the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure how liberal or conservative they are (though Justice O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan) or who they voted for, but this is more a human issue than a political one. Of course, it is the American way for everything to become political eventually—especially if we need to free up public monies to win this battle.Alzheimer’s Disease is such a horror that it would make a lot scarier movie that anything you could conjure up with zombies, flesh eaters and alien invaders. This could take us all down, and it is already off to an impressive start. They call it a “progressive” disease, which means its symptoms steadily worsen, and its progress is our ruination.Most of us can put a human face on it, because we know someone it took from us. Both my mother and mother-in-law felt its insidious wrath. My mother died before some of its more severe symptoms surfaced, though it was an accomplice in her death in January of this year. My mother-in-law lived through its more advanced stages. I saw it literally change the personality of one of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever known. When I think of Alzheimer’s I think of her trying to push her way past me as I blocked her exit from the home where she had lived most of her life and brought up her family. She was convinced we were holding her hostage, and when I looked in her eyes I could see, in that moment at least, the terror of one held captive by a stranger.We were lucky, because that part of her struggle, replete with anger and paranoia, only lasted a few months. She became calm and gentle, with that smile occasionally returning, in her last year of nursing care. Medication may be credited for that, I suppose, but I like to think her spirit was triumphant at the end of the fight.“I know you,” she’d say with a smile and the wonderment of a small child when my wife, her daughter, entered her room at skilled nursing. Sometimes she would even remember her name and, unlike others who have fallen to this incurable disease, she died with quiet dignity with her family around her. We like to think she was there with us at the end and Alzheimer’s did not claim the final victory.But Alzheimer’s always wins and will continue to win again and again, invading all our lives. We need to spend the money to understand it before we can conquer it. And just delaying its onset for a few years would be a tremendous victory even if we never eradicate it.Instead of scaring older people into voting for them, maybe politicians should offer some kind of commitment to conquering the greatest killer of those whose votes they covet.

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Wes is the sole copywriter/editor at SkillUnlimited and provides copy-editing services for internet marketing, website copy, book editing, and more.

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