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World Alzheimer's Awareness day

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By John E. Carey

Tomorrow, September 21, is World's Alzheimer's Day. This is a fitting anniversary for me as it coincides with my Mom's birthday. Tomorrow is the day that Alzheimer associations around the world set aside to concentrate their efforts on raising awareness about dementia. There are an estimated 24 million people around the world who currently have dementia.

Alzheimer's is one of the most costly maladies draining the reserves of insurance companies and family savings. And because the medical community is now able to help us live longer lives, the number of Alzheimer's sufferers is increasing at an alarming rate.

In June 1999, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) joined together as co-chairs of the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease, a task force that continues to provide an immeasurable degree of leadership.

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Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) head the effort in the Senate. Both are active, vigorous and conscientious advocates.

Congressional committees responsible for funding Alzheimer's research and treatment projects voted to limit or decrease most projects in the budget now under consideration on Capitol Hill.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer's progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations.

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Because Alzheimer's is a disease, a malfunction if you will, in the brain, patients and their families often experience difficulty in properly diagnosing the disease and getting treatment. While doctors often rely heavily on the patient's complaints to diagnose other diseases, a patient with Alzheimer's may be unable or reluctant to describe his or her own confusion and distress.

Add to that, the patient may be reclusive, untrusting and/or overly proud. The patient may suffer through long days of confusion and misinterpretation, only to rally in front of the doctor and hide any hint of disability.

My friend Ron may be the classic example of Alzheimer's disease running amuck in a sufferer both confused and no longer able to routinely make rational decisions others take for granted.

He is not only unable to make the decisions; he agonizes over simple decisions for days or weeks at a time.
And Alzheimer's disease sufferers can be dangerous, in extreme cases, to themselves and others. Ron has had three car accidents in recent memory. His insurance policy was revoked. But, unable to properly self-diagnose and afraid a doctor might recommend he stop driving, Ron, like untold numbers of others, retains his license, continues to drive, and found new though more expensive insurance coverage.

We experienced the agony of Alzheimer's in our own family. My mother progressed over the course of several years from exhibiting slightly odd behavior to the stage we all most fear. She became almost a totally different person. She became both difficult to care for and hard to love. She eventually needed full time nursing home care: a costly proposition even for the well heeled and adequately insured.

Fortunately there is lots of help available. Help groups, seminars and treatment opportunities abound. In my county, for example, people over the age of 65 can ride a taxi almost anywhere for $1.00 so nobody who feels unsafe behind the wheel needs to drive.

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What are the costs of a progressive brain disease on an aging society?

At the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders (ICAD), in Madrid during July, 2006, Dr. Anders Wimo, M.D. Ph.D., of the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center and Aging Research Center at Karolinska Instituet, Sweden, said the worldwide costs of dementia care (combined direct and informal costs) is now in the neighborhood $248 billion U.S. Dollars annually.

But this overlooks the fact that many suffer the ill effects of the disease and still receive no care and that our aging population is growing at a breathtaking rate.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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