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Alzheimer’s takes toll on more than patients

Staff Report • Jan 23, 2012 at 8:33 AM

Even as a new national strategy for treating Alzheimer’s disease was unveiled last week, some experts in the field were warning it may be too little, too late for many Americans with the illness.

The federal government has outlined what it says is an ambitious goal for Alzheimer’s disease: Development of effective ways to treat and prevent the mind-destroying illness by 2025.

In addition to greater public awareness, early diagnosis and treatment of the disease, experts say more resources must be dedicated to help those who care for its victims.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that robs patients of their most precious memories and intellect before finally claiming their lives.

But it is not only those who are afflicted with this insidious disease who suffer. So do their spouses, children and other family members who often serve as primary caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients.

Alzheimer’s takes a heavy toll on caregivers, many of whom are still working full time and raising children. These care providers are subject to great stress that can lead to their own health problems.

In that regard, Tennessee officials must continue to offer programs like the state’s “Silver Alert System.” Much like the “Amber Alert System” for missing or abducted children, the program helps locate missing Tennesseans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or similar dementia.

The state General Assembly voted in 2010 to remove a previous age requirement and include any citizen with Alzheimer’s, dementia or a physical impairment under the program. Before the change, the Silver Alert System only applied to those 60 or older.

The Alzheimer’s Association says more than 100,000 Tennesseans and as many as 5.4 million people nationwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers estimate the number of Americans diagnosed with the disease could quadruple by 2050. Officials say such an increase would place a heavy burden on health care systems and caregivers around the world. How to deal with such an extraordinary strain on public health resources is something local, state and federal governments should begin addressing now.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be a 24-hour-a-day job. Sometimes symptoms, such as hallucinations or aggressive behavior, may call for much more specialized care than a family member can provide.

There are support groups in this area that can lend a hand to those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent place to learn about these services. Call the association’s local chapter at 928-4080, or go online at www.alz.org/altn to find out more.

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