Like so many baby boomers, I spend a lot of my time these days obsessing over signs that my mind is going. The evidence is everywhere: I start to recommend the thrilling novel I finished on the train that morning but can't remember what it was called; I rave about a hilarious movie I rented over the weekend but couldn't name a single actor who appeared in it, or even the actual title; I'm constantly losing everything from the house keys to the dog's leash to the beer I know I must have recently fetched from the fridge because the bottle cap is still cold in the palm of my hand. I was whining to a friend the other evening about misplacing my cell phone for the 15th time in the past 24 hours when it occurred to me that I was talking to her on my cellphone.
Which is why I — and I'm sure a lot of middle-aged Americans — was heartened to hear that HHS is developing a national strategy on Alzheimer's disease. The goal: to find effective treatments for the disease and similar forms of dementia by the year 2025. "Under this goal, HHS will prioritize and accelerate the pace of scientific research and ensure that as evidence-based solutions are identified they are quickly translated, put into practice, and brought to scale," according to the draft of the first National Alzheimer's Plan.
Many of us have already been touched by Alzheimer's disease and related dementias — known by the acronym ADRD — either personally or through friends or family members. An estimated 5.4 million Americans have dementia and it is now the sixth leading cause of death. By 2050, more than 13 million Americans are expected to have Alzheimer's. Millions more of us are involved in caring for these patients. ADRD represents an enormous challenge to hospitals, a challenge that will intensify as the number of cases grows and more and more pressure is put on providers to share responsibility for patients all the way through the care continuum.
Under the HHS initiative, an advisory council of at least 22 experts from inside and outside government will meet quarterly to discuss and assess programs targeting the needs of individuals and caregivers coping with ADRD. In addition to finding effective treatments, the plan is intended to speed up diagnosis and improve support and training for families.
My grandfather and aunt suffered from and eventually succumbed to Alzheimer's, so I'm painfully aware of how devastating it is for the patients and their loved ones. But as a baby boomer heading pell mell into whatever tribulations old age holds for me, I also know a little levity can't hurt. Which is why I urge you to see that hilarious movie that came out earlier this year — or maybe it was a couple of years ago; the one with that actress and the actor, what's-his-face, that everybody thinks is so funny. Oh, you know the one I'm talking about. It's a riot. You'll love it.
Bill Santamour is managing editor of Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.