President Ronald Reagan declared the first National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. Eleven years later, President Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which eventually claimed his life. While President Reagan’s experience raised our collective awareness about this cruel disease, Americans today are, sadly, no less vulnerable to its ravages. The slow, steady decline of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias continues to affect Americans from all walks of life.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 5.3 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly 14 million Americans may suffer from it by 2050. Thousands live with early-onset Alzheimer’s and other related types of dementia. For these Americans struggling with the disease as it gradually erodes their ability to think, learn, and remember, we must all do our best to alleviate suffering, open our hearts, and provide loving care.
Additionally, our institutions must pursue research and other opportunities to help eradicate the disease in the future. We can and must do better.
This month, we also acknowledge the millions of caregivers currently assisting those with a diagnosis of dementia. They know firsthand that the cost of such a diagnosis is measured not just in dollars and cents, but also in the emotional and physical effort required to help loved ones. There is a light on the horizon, however, as our Nation’s scientific, medical, and caregiving communities are breaking new ground in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Advancements in computing, genetics, and imaging technologies are facilitating greater collaboration among researchers around the world.