Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Alzheimer’s Disease---A Different Kind of Pandemic

Yesterday I watched "The Alzheimer's Project," a four-part HBO documentary which looks at the faces behind the disease and the hope for a cure. Anyone can watch these programs for free online at the website for the National Alzheimer’s Association.

The NAA has also published a new report, 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. The report is a comprehensive statistical abstract of U.S. data on Alzheimer’s disease that includes: prevalence, mortality, the costs of Alzheimer care, caregiving and a special report on Mild Cognitive Impairment and early-stage Alzheimer's.

The numbers are mind-boggling:

• As many as 5.3 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s.
• Alzheimer's and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older.
• Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s.
• Alzheimer's is the seventh-leading cause of death.
• The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.

The National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan mandates that state plans identify “public and private sector partners needed for effective planning and response.” Also the plan insists on “coordination with local authorities, such as county and city public health departments, to assist in developing local plans on which the state plan depends.” Every state had to submit their plans to the CDC by April 2007 for evaluation.

What if we had this kind of plan for a community response to Alzheimer’s disease? To cancer? To all of the illnesses and disabilities that already afflict individuals and communities---contagious or not?

How would the national health care debate be different if we were asking each elected official---how many people in your district have Alzheimer’s? Are disabled? Need special equipment? Are dealing with cancer or HIV? Are 80+? 90+? Are the public and private sector partners in your district ready to meet these needs? Today? Tomorrow?

I think there is a huge disconnect between national discussions about health care and the current and projected local requirements.

All illness is local. All aging is local. All politics is local.

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