When former President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Awareness month in 1983, roughly 2 million Americans had the fatal brain-wasting disease. Today, 15 years after Mr. Reagan himself was diagnosed with it, and five years after his death, more than 5 million Americans are struggling with Alzheimer’s. The number of victims and the cost of their extended care are expected to increase. Experts say raising awareness about Alzheimer’s is a key to winning the fight against this disease.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It attacks the brain’s nerve cells, robs memory and impairs thinking and language skills. It’s currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
“Every 70 seconds, somebody is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Michael Reagan, popular radio talk show host and son of former President Ronald Reagan, probably the most famous victim of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s as a family affair
Reagan says almost from the time his father first learned he was ill, he has been part of a national campaign to raise public awareness about this devastating and heartbreaking illness.
“Joining the efforts is like I’ve been in this for a long time, as my father wrote a letter back in 1994 telling the world he had Alzheimer’s disease, watching what my father went through as he deteriorated year after year after, and finally being bedridden, and then passing away 5 years ago [in 2004],” he says. He adds, “That’s why I’m involved.”