Adrienne BoettingerFriday,13 November 2015
When we first found out my father had Alzheimer’s Disease, I read eleventy bajillion books about the condition. Nonfiction, fiction — if it covered Alzheimer’s, I read it. I also became obsessed with trying to get my dad to do crossword puzzles (which he never really liked) and eat healthy foods that studies suggested would boost cognitive power and memory function. Strangely he was not a fan of the tilapia-cherry-almond dish served alongside heavily curried squash; he savored it only slightly more than the spoonfuls of coconut oil my mother pushed on him.
It’s like I thought that if I studied hard enough I could figure out the mysterious rules for how this shitty disease destroys people’s minds. I could help think my dad’s condition away. But that was years ago; now it seems like a minor victory if I can get him to stay awake for more than 2 minutes at a time. Sometimes he doesn’t know who I am or what’s going on. He spends most of the day sleeping or pretending to be asleep. It’s getting harder for me to remember the man he was before or understand how to interact with the man he is now.
My story is far from unique. If you don’t yet know someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or another type of dementia, you won’t have to wait long. One in three Americans who manages to make it to the age of 65 will die with Alzheimer’s or dementia; note that it’s ‘with’ and not ‘from’. Alzheimer’s isn’t what typically kills you — but the other conditions that pop up because you forget to take your medicine or how to cross the street or when you last showered — that’s what does you in.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are crippling Medicare. This year alone, the diseases will cost the nation around $226 billion (half of that is paid for by Medicare). In 35 years, when I’m around the age my dad was when we started to realize something was wrong, costs are projected to rise to $1.1 trillion.
More research is desperately needed. That means money. In an election year—which we always seem to be in—politicians talk about how they’ll slash taxes and spending because ‘the American people know how to spend their money better than the federal government’. This will gain a lot of applause at debates but it won’t cure Alzheimer’s. Or cancer. Or any of the other devastating illnesses still running rampant. And it won’t pay for infrastructure or veterans’ benefits. They’re not popular but taxes pay for stuff that real people actually need.
So when your favorite candidate is telling you how much money he’ll save you keep in mind, there’s always a cost. You can pay it now in taxes or you can pay it later when you’re trying to figure out how to care for a loved one with a disease chronically underfunded in research.