It’s known as the silent killer, capable of annihilating a person’s cognitive function within a matter of years. Destroying brain cells and wiping memories, Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5.4 million Americans each year. It affects people as young as 35, though they’re usually past 65. In short, this is a killer that must be stopped, says Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, a national nonprofit based in Chicago.
“The part that’s been most missing in Alzheimer’s is the federal commitment — particularly in research, but also across the board in care, support and long-term services. There’s been a lack of attention to Alzheimer’s in general,” he told an audience of about 75 people at a Feb. 2 town-hall meeting at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community.
That’s no news to Dr. Margaret Noel. Twelve years ago, she founded MemoryCare, an Asheville nonprofit providing medical care for adults with memory loss and support for caregivers as well as educating the community at large about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “I’d always dreamed of being able to care for the family at the same time we care for the patient,” Noel explains.
Her work and dedication haven’t gone unnoticed, though: Noel was recently appointed to the association’s board of directors (see “Q&A with Dr. Margaret Noel”). In fact, that was the main reason Johns visited Asheville. But he took time to speak at the town hall meeting, believing open dialogue is essential concerning a disease that affects roughly one in eight Americans.
“We’re out there trying to mobilize everyone we can to raise their voices on this topic, to let the administration know — and let Congress know — that we need to create a strong plan, implement that plan, and we need to do it sooner rather than later,” Johns declared. He urged people to sign a petition calling on the president to fulfill the promise of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, unanimously approved by Congress more than a year ago. Although the law called for creating a national strategy to combat the disease, it did not provide any additional funding for research.
“If we don’t do it soon, we’ll lose a whole other generation to this disease,” pleaded Johns.
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