Advocates say the statistics are headed in the wrong direction as the number of Americans 65 years old and older living with the disease reaches 6.2 million.
OREGON, USA — While our seniors have been focused on the pandemic, a deadly disease has been growing in our country. One in three seniors dies of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, which is more seniors than those claimed by breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
The 2021 Facts and Figures report from the Alzheimer’s Association shows the burden from the devastating diseases continues to grow across the country. Right now, one in nine Americans 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. That’s 6.2 million people. More than 11 million people caring for them.
Behind the statistics are millions of families waiting for a cure. Daughters like Kelly Kallkofen.
“She was fun and spunky,” Kallkofen described her mother. “She was always called the life of the party. People would always describe her as a real hoot,” she said.
Kallkofen lights up when talking about her fun-loving mom, Patty, but she describes those memories through the pain of loss.
“I just, I miss her more than I can convey, and I think about her every day,” Kallkofen said.
Patty lost her 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s about a year ago, just months into the pandemic.
“The part that’s really crushing is, I watched my dad, who was her primary caretaker, struggle to meet the demands this disease requires,” she said. “The financial, emotional, and physical impact that Alzheimer’s has on families and caregivers.”
Her dad’s own health began to decline because of the toll the disease took on his wife.
Through her grief and struggle, she started volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association. Now, it’s how she honors her mom.
“That is my main motivation for volunteering is just knowing how painful and how hard of a disease it is to navigate. I don’t want other people to have to do that,” she said.
When she saw the latest statistics on Alzheimer’s disease from the Alzheimer’s Association, she was compelled to again share her story.
“They need to know this data is headed in the wrong direction,” she said.
In Oregon, there are 69,000 people living with the disease and 120,000 in Washington.
“It’s really hard to see those numbers continue to go in the wrong direction because, as Kelly said, there’s a person behind every one of those numbers,” Heidi Rowell said.
Rowell is the program director for the Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The goal of digging into these numbers is to raise awareness of the need for research.
“We want to find the research so we can prevent, we can treat, and ultimately cure this disease,” she said.
In 2021, the disease will cost the nation $355 billion and by 2050 the cost could rise to more than $1.1 trillion.
The pandemic has had a negative impact on those living with the disease.
Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths have increased by 16% during the pandemic.
“Many believe that this is a disease is just a memory problem and it only affects old people, but it is so much more than that. I mean, this disease is deadly. It kills,” Kallkofen said.
For the first time, the Alzheimer’s Association’s yearly Facts and Figures assessment is looking at racial disparities for treatment. It found discrimination is a barrier to care.
People of color reported discrimination while seeking healthcare: 50% of Black people, 42% of Native Americans, 34% of Asian Americans and 33% of Hispanic people reported issues seeking out healthcare.
Only 53% of Black Americans trust a future cure for Alzheimer’s will be shared equally, regardless of race, color, or ethnicity.
There are systemic and historical reasons for the distrust and the Alzheimer’s Association hopes these new figures will help lead to change.
“That’s one of the reasons that the Alzheimer’s Association is looking at: How can we have a more culturally competent workforce when it comes to, not only the healthcare professionals that care for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, but also the research community,” Rowell said. “The people that are researching this disease should look like the people that have this disease. They should be reflective of that community.”
Hoping to be part of that change, Kallkofen is now an Alzheimer’s Association ambassador. She says it’s not just about her own future but for everyone’s.
“It’s my hope that not one husband, not one wife, brother, sister, son, or daughter, ever has to experience what my family and I have experienced,” Kallkofen said.
The Alzheimer’s Association is here to help. Many programs have gone virtual because of the pandemic.
Get help 24/7 by calling 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org.