Racing For A Cure

grandma

My beautiful grandma died in December of last year after a long, drawn-out battle with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. The last few years of her illness, she had to be cared for in a nursing home because her needs became too complex for my mother to handle alone.

A dementia patient often looks healthy. In Grandma’s case, dementia first began interfering with her speech. At first she handled these lapses in memory with humor and began describing the thing whose name she couldn’t recall. “Let me put these biscuits in the…place where they cook,” she might say. Then she began to forget how to spell words. Eventually she couldn’t read, either.

Like the Benjamin Button character, dementia turned the clock backwards. By the time she came to live with my parents, Grandma was a sweet, silent helper. Her confusion with everyday objects meant she needed 24-hour supervision to make sure she didn’t eat something harmful or place electrical appliances in the sink full of water.

The entire time, we felt helpless. Alzheimer’s has no cure. There is no way to reverse the damage it causes. Scientists and researchers have promising leads, but so far funding constraints have limited their work. At any rate, there was no help for my grandma, nor was there help for my parents who took her in their home and later supervised her care at a nearby nursing home.

One of the reasons I support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is her commitment to funding Alzheimer’s research so that a cure can be found within 10 years. Like my mother, Hillary took care of her own mother in her last days and understands the huge responsibility that caregiving requires:

My mother lived with us for the end of her life, and having her there was just an amazing blessing for me. It was such a joy to have her in my home. … But I also know it was a sense of responsibility. Thankfully she was in pretty good health until she passed, but there were hospitalizations. There were doctor’s appointments, the kinds of things that happen in every family that I know of. For a lot of caregivers though, it is much, much more than that. Hillary Clinton

Like President Kennedy set a goal for mankind to reach the moon, Hillary Clinton believes a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease is within our reach.

I become convinced of this when I was a senator and I co-chaired the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s. I talked to a lot of doctors and scientists about what it would take to rapidly accelerate progress toward a breakthrough. They all said the same thing: we need more research dollars, we need reliable streams of funding, so we can follow promising leads even if they take a few years to pay off. And we need more brilliant minds working on this. And if we do all of that, we have a shot at making extraordinary progress.

First, I’ll set a goal of finding ways to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s—and make a cure possible—by the year 2025. That’s 10 years away. Leading scientists and researchers and clinicians tell me this is achievable, if we reach for it. So that’s what I intend to do.

How? Well secondly, I’ll invest $2 billion every year into research for Alzheimer’s and related disorders. Last year, we invested just over $500 million for a disease that costs many, many times more than that.

I admire her for holding out this challenge to the researching community and hope that they will take it up. Whether we end up with a President Trump or a President Clinton, Alzheimer’s disease will affect 15 million people by 2050. If family history is any clue, I may be one of those diagnosed. So I am personally invested in finding a cure now, before it gobbles up anyone else I love.

In addition to funding research, Hillary wants to provide a tax break to people who are family caregivers. Under her proposal, a family caregiver would be able to deduct 20% of caregiving expenses. I know my mom spent her own money in caring for Grandma, and the ability to deduct some of those expenses would have surely come in handy.

Another thing Hillary understands is caregiver turnover. My mom spent hours at the nursing home, retraining CNAs because the turnover was so high. There were certain things that Mom wanted done with Grandma’s care, easy, common-sense things, like making sure her dentures were cleaned every day. Every time a new CNA came on staff, Mom had to tell them what Grandma needed. None of that information was shared between staff members, and she ran herself ragged and worried herself sick making sure that the nursing home staff did what they were legally required to do. I’m convinced that my mom is a superhero. If she had not stood up for Grandma, that place would have parked her in a wheelchair and let her go for days without a shower.

So when Hillary said this in her remarks,

And we also have to make sure that paid caregivers…have enough training and sufficient financial support so that they don’t—they’re not turning over all the time. Just when you get used to somebody, they can’t afford to do the work any longer.

I could see that she understands the challenges. Understanding is one of the first steps to reform.

Forty percent of all Americans aged 65 or older have Alzheimer’s Disease. This age group is our greatest generation! It’s time to put our money where our best people are. Although I am not a single issue voter, this one issue — research into Alzheimer and dementia — is near and dear to my heart.

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It’s too late for Grandma, but when I go to the polls on election day and mark the spot for Hillary Clinton, I will do so in the hopes that it won’t be too late for my mom, my aunts, my uncles, my brother, my cousins, my niece and nephews, me, and my daughter. There is a hereditary component to Alzheimer’s, and we are racing against the clock.

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