Editorial: Fight Alzheimer's disease with a solid plan

Lisa Yates @Lisa_editor
Lisa Yates, editor

Few diagnoses are more devastating than Alzheimer's which obliterates thinking skills, personality and dignity.

That's about all I knew about the disease until meeting Coach Frank Broyles – the former athletic director at the University of Arkansas.

Coach Broyles literally wrote the book for Alzheimer's caregivers: "Coach Broyles Playbook." He wrote the book based on his experience caring for his wife Barbara, who died from complications related to Alzheimer's.

I was working for The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Ark., when I met the coach. I was sent to cover an Alzheimer's awareness event where he was the keynote speaker. Afterwards, I interviewed him and he gave me a copy of his book.

His story moved me and led me to become an advocate for Alzheimer's research. So every November during Alzheimer's Awareness Month, I ask individuals and elected officials for their commitment to Alzheimer's research.

Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out simple tasks. Here are a few facts provided by the Alzheimer's Association:

  • 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease
  • One in eight older American's has Alzheimer's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for person's with Alzheimer's and other dementia's
  • Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the U.S. for 2012

Without an effective preventative, the numbers will rise steadily as the population ages.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Medicare spends three times the amount caring for patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias over other beneficiaries.

One key reason: Alzheimer's patients are hospitalized far more often.

In a 2008 Mayo Clinic study, Dr. Ronald Peterson said:

"If we don't find a cure or treatment to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease, we're going to be overwhelmed by the burden of these patients on the health care system."

I agree with the doctor, part of the solution lies in finding better treatments and ultimately a cure.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, there's a new clinical trial to test whether the drug Crenezumab, made by Genentech, can prevent the disease in a group of people whose genetic heritage guarantees that they will develop it.

If the drug successfully prevents the loss of mental capacities, there is hope that it could do the same for the general public.

However, research is expensive.

The study is reported to cost more than $100 million. It is being financed primarily by the drug company, with $16 million from a grant from the National Institutes of Health, and $15 million coming from the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix which is leading the study.

Congress stepped up funding for Alzheimer's research from 1998 to 2003, but since then funding has been losing ground. That's dangerous with the crisis in Medicare upon us.

Funding needs to be a national priority, especially now when research holds such promise.

Money spent on Alzheimer's research is an investment, which could save millions of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. Our seniors deserve it.

For Alzheimer's caregivers, I highly recommend Coach Broyles' book.

In it he writes: "The information in this book is organized a lot like a coach's playbook. That's because I approach Alzheimer's disease much like I would an opponent on the field, with a solid plan and a dedicated team."

I like the way he thinks.

Lisa Yates is editor at Gonzales Weekly Citizen. Follow her on Twitter at Lisa_editor.