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article imageMaria Shriver: Baby Boomers Face an Epidemic of Alzheimer’s

By Carol Forsloff     May 10, 2009 in Health
Maria Shriver, daughter of Sargent Shriver who directed the Peace Corps for many years, faces what many people do these days. Her father has Alzheimer’s and she said we there is a health emergency nationally.
Shriver declares herself “a child of Alzheimer’s.” She recalled in a recent column, and on Larry King Live this week, that her father did many wonderful things that included the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty programs he started. She reminded people of her father being an intelligent man with high ideas, sharp and witty. Then she says how painful it is watching a man with such gifts transform to someone who doesn’t even recognize her as his daughter.
In her column Shriver relates feeling alone and powerless when she received her father’s diagnosis in 2003 and that the whole family was terrified when they learned of it. She said, “Like cancer, people didn’t talk about Alzheimers back then----they whispered about it. It was a diagnosis shrouded in shame.” She now maintains people need to know the diagnosis isn’t something to be ashamed of and that Alzheimer’s must become a critical national issue because of the extreme devastation it can cause families.
Two years ago CBS wrote a story about how Alzheimer’s is increasing. They wrote that more than 5 million Americans have the disease, which is an increase of 10 percent over the last estimate made five years before that by the Alzheimer’s Association. According to those estimates, this is in line with what had been forecasted in relationship to the graying of the population. This supports Shriver’s statement that baby boomers face an epidemic of Alzheimer’s.
In its early stages Alzheimer’s is often misdiagnosed, according to medical experts. The diagnosis is made from a variety of observations and information made from examinations and consulting with the individual and family, although the definitive diagnosis can’t be made until death, because there are specific physiological factors associated with the brain. Nevertheless, the memory deterioration, repetition, physical and cognitive decline are difficult for individuals and their families. There is no cure, and the inevitable is a slow progressive decline until death, each person with a different variation of the disease, with the similarities, however, of eventual decline.
Alzheimer’s is a disease with broad dimensions for the culture, as Shriver declares; and it is likely that the health system and President Barack Obama’s plans will consider its importance as she hopes, given the fact that she has emphasized it to the White House and the Congress.
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