It’s never in anyone’s life plan to struggle with disease or illness, but it seems that no one can skate through their time on this planet without facing health issues of some form or another. Even if you’re healthy as a horse and never have to take a sick day, you could suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a condition you never expected: Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a disease that strikes people all around the world, robbing them of their independence, their ability to remember things, and their ability to process things mentally in a way that allows them to function normally.
Initially, it affects the brain. But ultimately, it steals much more than memories—it steals life. And even if you’re not the one facing diagnosis of this devastating disease, you might be directly affected by it because a family member is struggling with it on a daily basis.
Much like cancer, Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that touches millions of people every day and seems nearly impossible to predict. It’s also incurable, which makes it all the more heartbreaking. “People don’t understand that everyone is affected by Alzheimer’s,” says Alzheimer’s Association Mid-South Chapter Manager of Development and Communications Fatemeh Delheimer. “Even if it’s not in their direct family, it might be within their extended family or arise somewhere in the future. Eventually Alzheimer’s in one way or another will affect everyone,” she continues. “Financially or personally, it will. Alzheimer’s is unlike any other disease in that, essentially, you’re losing the person twice. You lose them when they start forgetting all of their best memories, and then you lose them when they actually pass. Alzheimer’s is relentless and there is not enough focus on this dreadful disease.. While other top diseases such as HIV, cancer, and heart disease have all gone down in the number of deaths, Alzheimer’s has risen eighty-nine percent.”
They are tragic statistics, by any stretch of the imagination; but research is being done to take that number down and wage a war against the disease. And while it may seem an uphill battle now, Alzheimer’s Association is hardly backing down and giving up the fight. “Our core missions here are to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for everyone affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health,” Delheimer explains. “The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research as well as the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research. Our work is crucial right now because Alzheimer’s is on the rise and affecting more and more people each day; and, of the top ten causes of death today, it’s the only one that doesn’t have a treatment, a way to prevent it, or a cure.”
That said, the Alzheimer’s Association has certainly been making great strides forward in accomplishing its mission. Literally. Each year, countless people step up to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s annually, taking the fifth spot at the top of the list in peer-to-peer fundraising events in the Unites States. “During our most recent trips to Washington, D.C., Congress stated that advocates from the Alzheimer’s Association have been one of the most effective volunteer advocacy groups that comes to Washington,” Delheimer reports proudly.
Their drive is indeed strong; and in May 2017, Congress signed a $400 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding into law, thereby increasing federal funding at the National Institutes of Health to reach nearly $1.4 billion. “The Alzheimer’s Association, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM), and its nationwide network of advocates’ voices were heard,” Delheimer goes on.
Money for funding research is crucial to achieving the goal of raising awareness and advancing care and prevention. According to ranking by the Thomas Reuters Corporation, the Alzheimer’s Association is the worldwide leader in having the greatest impact in Alzheimer’s research—but none of that would be possible without the generosity of contributors from all over the nation. “Our funding doesn’t come from Federal grants,” says Delheimer. “It comes from generous individual contributions from across the nation as well as events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Longest Day. All of these help bring communities together to increase awareness and raise funds, and those are both key to winning the fight.”
As more individuals face this horrific and merciless disease, the Alzheimer’s Association’s work will become all the more needed. “Every dollar we raise advances the fight against Alzheimer’s, from providing care and support to raising awareness and focusing greater research toward treatment, prevention, and—hopefully, one day soon—a cure,” Delheimer says. “We provide in-person support groups, a free nationwide 24-hour helpline, and a number of sources and online message boards that are all geared toward offering support to the more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and their 15 million caregivers. We provide free educational programs that help educate and raise awareness in the public, and we call on the government—at both the state and Federal level—to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research and to improve access to quality health care services for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Looking ahead, one can only hope that the fight doesn’t continue to be uphill, but that we soon see a day of victory when the statistics are reversed and Alzheimer’s is like a bad memory that we can happily forget.
Alzheimer’s Association Mid South is located at 4825 Trousdale Drive, Suite 220, Nashville, TN 37220. For more information about fundraising events, Alzheimer’s information and support, and contributing to the cause, call (800) 272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/altn/.