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Editorial | Island Voices

Alzheimer’s is ticking time bomb that needs immediate attention

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Families rarely talk to friends about how Alzheimer’s disease is impacting them.

However, there are more than 5 million Americans, including 26,000 Hawaii residents, living with Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is not a normal part of aging, and is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and it cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

By the year 2025, 35,000 Hawaii residents will be living with Alzheimer’s, an increase of 35 percent.

The Alzheimer’s health crisis is reaching epic proportions, and our state legislators must be more proactive and pass legislation that helps individuals and their families struggling with the disease.

As a volunteer on the Alzheimer’s Association advisory board, my role is to champion for the effective treatment and to wipe out Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

I do this in memory of my father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009. The disease took its toll on him as he lost his memory, speech, and mobility. This devastating disease was especially hard for my mother, as the caregiver for her husband. He passed away one week short of their 60th anniversary.

In addition to the human toll, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the nation, costing $226 billion in 2015.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and these costs will continue to soar with aging baby boomers. On average, Medicaid spends 19 times more for seniors with Alzheimer’s, than for seniors without Alzheimer’s. Based on the current trajectory, Alzheimer’s costs for the U.S. will more than quadruple to $1.1 trillion in 2050.

These staggering costs do not include the unpaid care provided by loved ones. There are nearly 65,000 Alzheimer’s family caregivers in Hawaii enduring the heartbreaking emotional, physical and financial challenges that accompany this disease. These unpaid family caregivers annually provide an estimated 74 million hours of care, valued at approximately $901 million.

Even without a way to cure or even slow Alzheimer’s, the quality of life for those living with the disease can be improved and associated costs decreased by implementing a state plan: Hawaii 2025: State Plan on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. This plan that was presented to Hawaii’s Legislature in 2014 includes the following goals: prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s by 2025; enhance care quality and efficiency; expand supports for people with Alzheimer’s and their families; enhance public awareness and engagement; and improve data to track progress.

While the state plan is the blueprint to fight the disease, as a first step, the 2016 Legislature should pass legislation to fund a state Alzheimer’s disease and dementia services coordinator, and an Alzheimer’s disease public awareness campaign. The 2015 legislature failed to do this. This first step will make a huge difference in the lives of the thousands of individuals, caregivers, and families in Hawaii struggling with this disease.

State lawmakers need to hear that Hawaii’s families and caregivers need their help and active involvement by passing legislation that supports individuals with the disease and their caregivers. Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb that has already devastated too many island families. We cannot ignore the burden and impact of this disease any longer. The Legislature needs to act now.

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