Nov 13 2018
Millions of Americans Provide Care to Loved Ones With Dementia
We are all too familiar with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. We know the disruption that its symptoms of progressive forgetfulness and confusion, leading eventually to helplessness, can cause in daily lives, and the major challenge we still face in finding a cure. Alzheimer’s remains 100 percent fatal.
Not to be overlooked, however, is the profound impact that Alzheimer’s disease has on entire families. Loved ones not only have to bear painful witness to their family member slipping away, but they also often carry the weight of arranging assisted living and special care. Alongside the serious emotional toll is a tough financial reality, in which families endure years of additional costs or are forced to leave the workforce to provide the extra care themselves.
Billions of Hours Devoted to Care
This month is an opportunity to shine light on the devotion displayed day in and day out by family caregivers, who often deal with their own health issues as they try to take care of their loved ones. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are more than 16 million caregivers in the United States who lend billions of hours to those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Fittingly, November is recognized as both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. The two are closely intertwined.
In 2015, I authored the “EUREKA Act” to help accelerate federal efforts to treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease. That law, which supports the development of prize competitions for research breakthroughs, is also aimed at helping caregivers. Earlier this year, a EUREKA competition was launched by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health calling on innovators to come up with technology-driven improvements in patient care.
Efforts to Strengthen Caregiver Support and Training
Lawmakers have followed the “EUREKA Act” with other legislative initiatives that focus on critical outreach to caregivers. One of these bills would support a nationwide infrastructure for understanding and treating Alzheimer’s disease. That infrastructure would include new centers of excellence and state public health departments to help identify caregivers’ unique needs. Another bill would encourage more comprehensive strategies for managing a patient’s care over time as well as innovative ways to deliver caregiver support and training. I am a cosponsor of both of these bills and hope to see their passage in the Senate soon. In the executive branch, training for caregivers has been a priority of both the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Administration for Community Living.
These efforts coincide with support for strong research funding. Congress was successful in increasing funding for Alzheimer’s research this year, exceeding the $2 billion in funding put forward as a goal by the “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.”
Taking an aggressive approach to Alzheimer’s care is necessary. Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 5.7 million Americans. With Thanksgiving around the corner and the time this season affords us with our loved ones, it seems especially appropriate to extend our gratitude to the many people who are helping us in the fight against Alzheimer’s. This includes not only researchers and health professionals but also family members and caregivers, whose constant love and compassion offer strength and hope amid heartbreaking circumstances.