Alzheimer's Assoc. launches new initiative - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Alzheimer's Assoc. launches new initiative in face of rising impact on women

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Images courtesy The Alzheimer's Association Images courtesy The Alzheimer's Association

By Sandra Ecklund
secklund@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The eighth annual report from the Alzheimer's Association was released Wednesday and with it, a new focus on how the disease impacts women.

According to the report, 5 million -- or one in nine -- Americans are living with Alzheimer's, including 200,000 under the age of 65.

Early onset Alzheimer's in his family is what led actor Seth Rogen to attend a hearing dedicated to the economic impact of Alzheimer's disease in America.

"Americans whisper the word Alzheimer's, because their government whispers the word Alzheimer's. And, although a whisper is better than the silence that the Alzheimer's community has been facing for decades, it is still not enough," said Rogen. "It needs to be yelled and screamed to the point that it finally gets the attention and the funding it deserves and needs, if for no other reason than to get some peace and quiet."

You can see Seth Rogen's plea for awareness by clicking here.

Alzheimer's has become the sixth leading cause of death overall and the fifth leading killer of women.

Alzheimer's Association Chief Strategy Officer Angela Geiger said that women over 60 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's than breast cancer, and it's a disease that transcends genetics.

"If you have a brain, you should be worried about Alzheimer's disease," Geiger said in a teleconference held last week. "It does not have to run in your family."

The report also reveals that a woman's estimated risk of developing Alzheimer's at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared to nearly 1 in 11 for a man.

So, why are women more affected?

"One reason we know, is that women live longer than men and that is an important factor," said Geiger. "There are things we don't know and that's why federal funding is so important - to unlock the key to these mysteries."


Calling for Help from Capitol Hill

The 'My Brain Matters' campaign is centered around getting that funding and increasing awareness of the disease. While public concern has increased significantly over the years, starting a national conversation could turn into more research dollars and possibly a cure.

"Federal funding has made an impact on other diseases," said Geiger. "We need to make this happen for Alzheimer's."

In January, President Barack Obama signed a FY14 funding bill that included $122 million in additional Alzheimer's funding. Alzheimer's Association officials call it the "largest-ever increase in federal funding for Alzheimer's research and care programs."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated $566 million will go to fund Alzheimer's research in 2014. That's compared to $2,015 million for cardiovascular disease, $2,978 million for HIV/AIDS and $5,274 million towards cancer research.

"We are not, at the moment, limited by ideas. We are not limited by scientific opportunities. We are not limited by talent," said National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins in a statement last month. "We are, unfortunately, limited by resources to be able to move this enterprise forward at the pace that it could take."


The Cost of Living with Alzheimer's

Officials with the organization believe women are at the epicenter of the disease, not just as patients, but caregivers.

In a comparison of consequences of caregiving among male and female caregivers, 20 percent of women had to decrease their working hours to part time compared to three percent of men, 18 percent had to take a leave of absence compared to 11 percent of men, and 11 percent had to give up work entirely compared to five percent of men.

Those caregivers could be dedicating their lives to their loved ones who are diagnosed. Most people survive an average of four to eight years with Alzheimer's, but many can live as long as 20 years with the disease.

"A hundred and fifty billion dollars is spent on care and not treatment," said Geiger. "It's intense and long and doesn't change the progression of the disease."

That total of $150 billion dollars refers to the Alzheimer's related costs that are estimated to be covered by Medicaid and Medicare in 2014. That's $8 billion more than last year.

In 2013, the total cost of health and long-term care services totaled about $203 billion, including Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and out-of-pocket costs. This year, that total is expected to rise to $214 billion, and reach $1.2 trillion in 2050.

In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, valued at more than $220 billion.


The Value of Early Detection


While there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease and no way to slow its progression, the earlier you find out you have it, the better.

"The knowledge of what is happening is important so you can plan ahead for your care and finances," said Alzheimer's Association vice president of medical and scientific relations Dr. Maria Carrillo. "It gives you the opportunity to enjoy the time you have knowing you could have cognitive decline."

It also gives you the opportunity to participate in clinical studies of treatments, medications and imaging. Officials hope increased Federal funding will help find new treatments to stop, slow or even prevent Alzheimer's.

Dr. Geiger said during the teleconference Friday that there is a "robust pipeline for medications that could help Alzheimer's sufferers" including 11 compounds in phase three in the FDA's pipeline waiting for approval.

A drug reaches phase three after it has shown effectiveness but needs to be tested for safety. Learn more about FDA testing phases here.

Geiger also said there are 22 potential Alzheimer's medications in Phase Two and 50 in Phase One. There are also four clinical trials hoping to stop the disease in its tracks before someone is diagnosed, offering secondary prevention.

Just last month the Alzheimer's Association announced it received $8 million dollars for research to support the "Longitudinal Evaluation of Amyloid Risk and Neurodegeneration" study. The LEARN project is a companion study to the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's Disease (A4) Study, an  Alzheimer's prevention trial that is starting this year.

The grant came from a private family foundation and will be awarded over a four year period.

"The Alzheimer's Association's goal with this award, with our colleagues at A4, is to jump-start the development of new detection methods, treatments, and prevention strategies for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias," said Dr. Carrillo. "These groundbreaking studies may help us distinguish people with normal cognition in the general population who are at highest risk to eventually develop Alzheimer's, and identify treatments — and when best to administer them - to slow or prevent this terrible disease."

Click here for more information on the LEARN study.

While projects like LEARN and A4 hope to find ways to prevent Alzheimer's, right now the only thing experts say you can do is the same thing you would do to keep any other part of your body healthy: eat healthier, exercise and watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

To learn more about Alzheimer's Disease, including symptoms, stages, clinical trials and advice for caregivers, go to the Alzheimer's Association's website, www.alz.org.

To find a chapter in South Carolina, including right here in Charleston, visit www.alz.org/sc/.

To see the full 2014 report, including a breakdown of numbers in South Carolina, click here.

 

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