By Sen. Karen Keiser
Editors note: The Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter will host 14 Town Halls to advance work on the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias and the Idaho Alzheimer’s State Plan. Attend a Town Hall in your community.
I give heartfelt thanks to my parents and grandparents for giving me a heritage of good genes. Is there anything more seemingly accidental than inheriting a troubling health history – one that includes the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s? So many families struggle with this disease which doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, especially when diagnosis is too often delayed and families fear there is little they can do.
This is why the best news I’ve heard in years came from last year’s federal budget, which included a substantial increase for National Institutes of Health (NIH) brain research and an unprecedented NIH professional judgment budget proposal for fiscal year 2017. The inclusion in the so called “bypass budget” adds Alzheimer’s to a short list of diseases to receive such action and would fast-track additional resources focused on discovering new treatments and cures.
For Washingtonians, this news is long overdue. Alzheimer’s is the third leading cause of death in our state, and 107,000 Washingtonians are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, with projections that the diagnosis will continue to grow rapidly. That’s why I was so thrilled to sponsor our new law creating a state Alzheimer’s plan with a working group of public and private stakeholders who undertook a year’s worth of town meetings and strategizing.
Their plan is ambitious and comprehensive.
Our state Alzheimer’s Disease Working Group (ADWG) strategic plan aims to change the stigma attached to dementia by replacing feelings of fear and disengagement and creating a sense of hope and empowerment. Significant improvements in early diagnosis and statewide coordination of information, including best practices and available services, are also top goals for the working group. All of these worthy goals will be easier to achieve when enhanced research and more clinical trials are underway. A miracle cure may not be found, but coordinated and comprehensive research will greatly improve clinical treatments for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
We must not forget the families who bear the brunt of dealing with “the long goodbye” of Alzheimer’s. Family caregivers often report feeling isolated and powerless as they try to provide a safe, supportive home for their loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have a wonderful neighbor whose husband is in his fourth year of memory loss. She cannot leave him home alone for a minute, and she is burdened by endless hours of care without much respite. Her own health will suffer eventually if we can’t get her more support.
As a state we must do all we can to create support groups for families and access to respite services for caregivers in order to sustain these incredible families who provide countless, priceless unpaid services to thousands of Washingtonians with Alzheimer’s. We must offer our deepest gratitude to all the families who provide for their parents, spouses and family members with Alzheimer’s.