By Ivan Flores
Over 1,000 people gathered at Washtenaw Community College for a walk to end Alzheimer’s disease.
The event was sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association and raised over $160,000.
Jennifer Howard, the executive director of the group’s Michigan Great Lakes chapter, said that this was one of 600 walks that happen every year across the country, and one of 12 sponsored by her chapter.
There are 170,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in Michigan. It is a form of dementia without cure or even effective treatment.
Known for the signature symptom of irreversible memory loss, the disease is also fatal. It is the 6th leading cause of death of people 65 and older, and the only cause of death among the top 10 in America that can’t be prevented or cured, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The crowd at WCC was clothed in purple, the color of Alzheimer’s awareness. Individuals carried flower pinwheels of different colors: orange for support, yellow for family members with the disease, and blue for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Among the families present, stood a 16-year-old girl who shyly shared her family’s story.
Her father was diagnosed with a early-onset Alzheimer’s two years ago.
“When someone dies,” she said, you deal with the loss once. “But when you have someone with Alzheimer’s in your family, you deal with the loss everyday. Sometimes my dad says things and I don’t know if I can take them seriously or not. He’s not the same person he was two years ago. There’s nothing I can do about it.” The teenager is not identified to protect her family’s privacy.
The disease also affects the care givers. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that care contributors on average lose $15,000 in annual income to help meet the demands of caregiving; and they are 28 percent more likely to go hungry than other adults.
The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s may reach 16 million by 2050, triple what is now. The cost to Medicare will increase to $589 billion, with one in every three Medicare dollars spent on Alzheimer’s.
There are drugs in development that could effectively slow the progression of the disease. Those drugs could be available within seven years, Arijit Bhaumik, the research projects manager for the University of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center announced.
Bhaumik’s organization, along with researchers at Wayne State University and Michigan State University, recently received a $9 million grant from the National Institute of Health. He said the money will be used for research, education and cutting edge clinical care in Michigan. The research focus is not just on Alzheimer’s but also other forms of dementia.
“We’re part of 30 federally funded sites across the nation,” Bhaumik said. “The goal is to contribute research data to the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center so they can look at the larger problems.”
Bhaumik said it’s been a long road. He emphasised Alzheimer’s research has not progressed as far as cancer or HIV research. However, the head of his department is optimistic that the next five to seven years there will be a cure, in part because of the drugs currently in development.
As of now there is no way of confirming a diagnosis except through an autopsy. Although the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are very similar to other forms of dementia, the causes and treatments can greatly differ.
Bhaumik said that the one of the biggest priorities of research is to detect Alzheimer’s early in its development. If that can be accomplished by the time the drugs in development hit the market, the disease could be stopped. The long-term challenge, he said, will be learning if it’s possible to reverse the disease.
Back at the walk, Howard encouraged those struggling with the disease or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s to reach out for help.
“If people have have questions or if they need help or support, we’re here to help the community,” she said.