Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An approaching epidemic: Alzheimer's research underfunded

The following op-ed was published in the Charleston Gazette, Charleston, WV, on March 26, 2008
By Jane Marks

On March 18, the Alzheimer's Association released its latest collection of relevant data about all aspects of the disease and its impact, current and future, on this country. It is a devastating portrait of a looming public health epidemic, and includes this sobering fact: 10 million Baby Boomers will likely get Alzheimer's disease.

Because this developing health crisis is not being addressed by our national policymakers, the association also took out full-page ads in three national newspapers to ask the three major presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama, what they plan to do about Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease that kills the brain and eventually the person, and at this time, there are no effective treatments to stop its progression. Today, there are 78 million Baby Boomers who are going to start turning 65 in less than three years. We're staring into the face of an epidemic but we're ignoring it:

  • There are about 5 million Americans living with the disease and by midcentury, that number is expected to increase to as many as 16 million.

  • In West Virginia, we have approximately 47,000 individuals with Alzheimer's.

  • Every 71 seconds, someone in this country develops Alzheimer's and by 2050, the rate will be every 33 seconds.

  • Today, there are between 200,000 to 500,000 people under age 65 with young-onset Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

  • Experts predict that by 2010, there will be almost a half-million new cases of Alzheimer's disease each year; and by 2050, there will be almost a million new cases per year.

  • The resulting growth in spending on Medicare and Medicaid will threaten the viability of these already-stressed public programs. We do not have the health infrastructure to support or care for the rising number of people with Alzheimer's.

We can change these facts, but not with the current proposed federal research budget that underfunds medical research. Researchers are close to finding effective treatments that can slow the progression of the disease, but they are not getting funds they need. For the past five years, the NIH budget has been essentially flat. Compared to medical research inflation, NIH has actually lost 13 percent in purchasing power. The number of grants has declined significantly over this period; young researchers are leaving the field.

New and effective treatments for Alzheimer's will not only save millions of Americans and their families from tragedy and threat to retirement security, but Medicare and Medicaid could yield savings of $60 billion annually if we find these treatments. NIH underfunding is a trend that cannot continue with the next presidential administration and Congress. There is too much at stake. At this time, there is no national policy or strategy in place to deal with this 21st century public health threat. As the presidential campaign focus comes to West Virginia, I hope you will join me in asking Sens. Clinton, McCain and Obama: If you are agents of change, you need to alter the course of Alzheimer's disease and make it a thing of the past. What is your plan?

Marks is the executive director of the Alzheimer's Association's West Virginia chapter. She can be reached at

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama:

Full page ad as run in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Politico on March 18.

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Alzheimer’s Association releases new Facts & Figures report

Alzheimer’s Association releases new Facts & Figures report to the nation, calls on candidates for plans to address the growing burden of Alzheimer’s. View the report:


Media line: 312.335.4078

Toni Williams: 202.638.8666

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Alzheimer's: A New Earth

A lot of people I know are reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and discovering a new consciousness. Oddly enough, a number of people I know with Alzheimer’s have already discovered this new consciousness but not through A New Earth. They discovered it through Alzheimer’s.


Let me try to explain.

Following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, you are no longer an engineer, a teacher, an accountant. You are no longer a tennis player, a chess player, a piano player. You are no longer good at math. You are no longer good in the kitchen.

You ask yourself, “Who am I now?”
You ask yourself, “Has my real self died?”

You are no longer the YOU you used to be. You are having trouble even remembering the YOU you used to be. Your FORMER Self is gone. Alzheimer’s has greedily taken hold of your former Self, is clenching it with both hands, and won’t give it back. The loss of this former Self is experienced like a death. You grieve the death of your former Self.

But once the grief has passed, you may be able to see what is left, no longer obscured by the former Self. What remains is the REAL self.


Here’s an excerpt from my next book, LIVING ALZHEIMER’S which speaks to this discovery and includes a quote from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth:

I'm nothing short of awed by Jay's transformation. Here's a man who has been diagnosed with a disease synonymous with death, but the man before me, in this present moment, is not a dying man. He is not angry, depressed, resentful, blaming, jealous, fearful, or in denial. How is this possible? How can he not be angry about the loss of his successful career, his identity, as an architect? How can he not be resentful about the fatigue and the loss of cognitive capabilities that interfere with his days? How can he not be consumed with fear about his future? Why doesn't he feel lost?

Some time after our conversation, I read every one of the books Jay recommended. I will forever be grateful to him for introducing me to this knowledge that has changed the way I look at the world and inhabit my own life. Thinking of Jay's transformation, I'm struck still while reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. And I get it.

"Whatever they had identified with, whatever gave them their sense of self, is taken away. Then suddenly and inexplicably, the anguish or intense fear initially felt gave way to a sacred sense of Presence, a deep peace, serenity, and complete freedom from fear....When forms that you had identified with, that gave you your sense of self, collapse or are taken away, it can lead to a collapse of the ego, since ego is identification with form. When there is nothing to identify with anymore, who are you? When forms around you die or death approaches, your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter...You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness had identified with. That's the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am."

Lisa Genova, Ph.D., author of STILL ALICE,

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.

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