Let’s Do More to Fight Dementia

by Jeannine English, AARP President, October/November 2015
Do you ever forget the name of an actor or a song or someone you knew in school or the PIN for your ATM card? If you’re like a growing number of people, you might start to worry that something is wrong with your brain.

But in most cases, you needn’t worry. We all forget things on occasion. It’s usually normal and no cause for alarm.

Still, the growing anxiety over brain health reflects an ominous trend: The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is increasing sharply. And that trend could take a devastating toll on individuals, families and the entire health care system.

Costs for treating dementia are rising astronomically. One study found that by 2050, $1 out of every $3 spent by Medicare will go to dementia, and overall costs will exceed $1 trillion.

We cannot afford to stay on this course.

It’s time for society to recognize the magnitude of this problem and respond much more aggressively.

While the ultimate goal is finding a cure, we need ways to slow the progress of dementia after it has begun.

Also, we can do much more to improve care for people living with dementia. Family caregivers need support to help their loved ones live comfortably at home for as long as possible. More specialized training for health aides can improve care and lower costs.

Although we don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s, there is some evidence that people can reduce their risk of cognitive impairments by adopting certain lifelong habits that promote good health.

The AARP Staying Sharp initiative recommends that people get regular exercise, eat right, reduce stress, stay socially engaged and continue to learn throughout their lives.

I believe we all should support the development of a cure for dementia. But in the meantime, while we await that much-needed breakthrough, I hope you will join me in the challenge to practice good habits for your brain health every day.


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