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Guest column/Now is the time for a national Alzheimer’s plan

February 5, 2012

In January 2010, President Barack Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act into law, clearing the way for the development and implementation of a national Alzheimer's plan to address the Alzheimer's disease crisis.

We have seen significant national attention and leadership in addressing the challenges of the Alzheimer's crisis in the past several months, but more work is needed in addressing this serious and growing issue.

On Jan. 18, the board chairs for Alzheimer's Association Chapters in Ohio addressed a letter to Peter M. Rouse, counselor to the president, urging that the national Alzheimer's plan be bold and transformative. Alzheimer's is unmatched in the scale of its devastating human and economic impact, combined with the fact that, today, absolutely nothing is available to stop, slow or prevent it.

No other major chronic disease or leading cause of death fits this description.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease and are cared for by almost 15 million unpaid caregivers.

This toll will increase rapidly in the coming years, as much as tripling to 60 million Americans directly affected by mid-century.

Alzheimer's disease is a real and ever-growing issue for Ohio.

Today, approximately 230,000 Ohioans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and 60,000 of those people live in the service area of the Greater East Ohio Area Chapter. The diagnosis of Alzheimer's presents significant life changes and challenges for families and caregivers as well. In Ohio, more than 1.2 million family members, friends and others are caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease. These caregivers provided $7.9 billion in unpaid care in 2010 alone.

Currently there is a pending draft of the national's Alzheimer's plan.

This plan has the potential to change the trajectory of this disease. While a cure is the ultimate goal, even delaying onset or slowing progression by five years could result in dramatic savings and improved quality of life for millions of individuals. We urge our national leaders to fulfill their promise to deliver a strong national plan as well as take the necessary steps and resources to put the plan in motion.

Alzheimer's can't wait. We must act now.

(Schuellerman is executive director of the Greater East Ohio Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which is located in Hudson.)

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