Today, more and more Americans are entering their sixties and beyond.
Even here in athletic Boulder County, the number of senior citizens is growing.
Most of us expect to age in a healthy way. But along with the mounting years comes a possibility that’s terrifying. It’s the increasing probability that you or a family member or friend will be diagnosed with a disease that is often devastating.
It’s Alzheimer’s disease.
For many who eclipse 65, Alzheimer’s disease will take center stage. While Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging and can affect younger people, the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Due to our aging population and people living longer, Alzheimer’s disease is now a worldwide epidemic. The implications of the skyrocketing numbers of people diagnosed will make you pause.
And here in healthy Boulder County, we are not immune.
How pervasive is Alzheimer’s?
In 2016, an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, including 67,000 Coloradans. Barring the development of medical breakthroughs, by 2025 – just nine years from now – those diagnosed in Colorado will rise more than 37 percent to 92,000.
Across the U.S., the number will rise to 13.8 million by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is among the top 10 diseases in the U.S. Of these diseases, it is the sixth leading cause of death, and the fifth-leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. In Colorado, 1,316 died with Alzheimer’s in 2013, an 85 percent jump since 2000.
“It’s the only disease in the top 10 without a cure, without a prevention, and without any effective treatment,” explains Jim Herlihy, director of marketing and communications for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
It’s a serious picture and gets more serious as you look at the broader impacts.
People with Alzheimer’s may live 4-20 years after diagnosis, with the average being eight years. Depending on the part of the brain impaired, the progressive disease may affect memory, decision-making abilities, judgment, facial recognition, personality and spatial perception, among other brain functions.
Ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease kills, shutting down the body.
The costs are crushing.
Alzheimer’s disease is the biggest draw on Medicare, says Herlihy, with one in every five Medicare dollars spent on people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The percentage is expected to jump to one in every three dollars by 2050.
And that doesn’t account for the time and money that volunteer caregivers contribute taking care of their family and friends. In 2013 in Colorado alone, 239,000 caregivers provided 272 million hours of unpaid care, according to Herlihy.
The ray of hope in Colorado.
While Alzheimer’s presents the person living with dementia and their family members with a new, all-encompassing reality to face, there is hope.
In Boulder County, hope comes in the form of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the many donors and volunteers who are leading the charge to fight the disease.
“Our job is to educate people and raise awareness because one out of three people over the age of 85 will have a diagnosis,” says Tina Wells, director of education and outreach for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Taking a regional approach to support and education, the Alzheimer’s Association offers educational programs, support groups and fundraising activities in Boulder County. With a 24/7 Helpline, the Alzheimer’s Association is always there for those affected by the disease, or those who have questions about the early signs of symptoms.
The mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to eliminate the disease. To do that, the organization is tackling a number of fronts:
- enhancing care and support through education, support groups and the 24/7 Helpline;
- advancing research to accelerate the global progress of new treatments, preventions and ultimately, a cure; and
- advocating to make Alzheimer’s a national priority for the state and federal governments.
All programs are free to the participants. Monies raised through donations and events go to support these programs and other activities of the Alzheimer’s Association.
With the trajectory of this disease, each of us will likely be touched in some way.
The Boulder Source is pleased to honor the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association as our Featured Friend for May, which is Older Americans Month. Please stay tuned for more about Programs available in Boulder County and upcoming fundraising events such as The Longest Day on June 20, and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on August 13.
For support, resources or questions about symptoms, call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.
Learn about the signs and symptoms visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Read an in-depth story on living with Alzheimer’s disease published recently in The New York Times.
Find out more about the work of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Get more information about programs and resources available through the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
To join the cause by donating, click here.