Let's do our part for Alzheimer’s and brain awareness

Every year during the month of June, the United States has the opportunity to bring awareness to Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month. Alzheimer's is a degenerative brain disease and the most common type of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5 million Americans suffer from this horrible disease and with our population aging by the day, we have a difficult road ahead of us.  Just in the state of Mississippi, Alzheimer's affects 53,000 residents and with 936,000 citizens over the age of 50, these numbers will grow.

Recently, we were fortunate to attend an Alzheimer's Awareness Education Series at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center in Jackson. This informative series was led by Dr. Thomas H. Mosley, the Dudley and Robbie Hughes Chair and the MIND Center founding director.  Dr. Mosley is a nationally recognized expert and professor of medicine-geratrics.  His research efforts have been dedicated to uncovering how and why the brain changes with age.

To help bring additional exposure and awareness to this dreadful disease, the MIND Center and Alzheimer's Association partnership scheduled the informative session on June 21st, which happens to be the longest day of the year. The symbolic date selected defines the challenges that caregivers, families and Alzheimer's patients encounter daily during their difficult journey.  Dr. Mosley and the MIND Center team and the Alzheimer's Association did an extraordinary job informing several hundred in attendance about the new research into the causes of Alzheimer's and dementia.  Mississippians traveled from across the state to hear about the latest Alzheimer's developments, cures and collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. Everyone was fully informed on the research, new treatments and diagnosis of the disease.

A partnership is underway between the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and the Mayo Clinic with plans of rolling out an exciting long term MIND Center-Mayo Clinic Study of Aging.  UMMC will recruit 4,000 Mississippians to participate in the study utilizing over two decades of their comprehensive research into aging and dementia.

Over time Alzheimer's attacks the brain with a vengeance.  Currently, with our aging population and a record number of baby boomers turning 65, our federal, state and local community leaders need to continue coming together to join the fight. Statistics show Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and one in eight baby boomers are projected to develop the disease. Those numbers are staggering, but by 2050 those numbers are expected to triple.

The MIND Center has been blessed by grant funding from the National Institute of Health and other federal agencies as well as local, state and national contributions to help them continue their amazing research on behalf of those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. On June 28th, the United States Appropriations Committee approved $425 million in additional funding for Alzheimer's research bringing the 2019 funding to $2.3 billion.  This proves our members of Congress are starting to understand the importance of caring for our older American's, but we need to continue preparing for the future. After witnessing the extraordinary work the MIND Center is doing for Mississippians suffering from the disease, we need to ensure they get the funding to continue their efforts.

Reaching out to thank our members of Congress for their commitment to defeat Alzheimer's and asking them to please continue funding Alzheimer's and dementia research will pay big dividends. We can't just depend on the UMMC and the Alzheimer's Association to do all the work for us, let's join the battle as a community to put an end to Alzheimer's.

If you need a little extra motivation, just remember Alzheimer's is the fastest growing disease in the United States and there is no way to prevent it or stop it at this point. As reported recently in The Hill,  Alzheimer's is costing America $277 billion annually and is projected to hit the $1 trillion mark by 2050.  Congress and our professionals at the MIND Center are working diligently to help us win this battle, but we have a long way to go.

Conwell Hooper is executive director of American Senior Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on behalf of America's greatest generation. He can be reached at conwell@americansenioralliance.com.

This article was featured as an Op-Ed on The Clarion Ledger.

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