There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s impact on society is already huge and growing every year. Still, as those battling the disease and their caregivers, friends and families observed The Longest Day, the message was one of hope.
“We’re going to cure it if it’s the last thing we do,” said Taylor Wilson, director of communications and advocacy for the South Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The nonprofit led the way in the yearly tradition of organizing events on the summer solstice (the year’s longest day in terms of daylight hours) to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s as well as money to assist caregivers and help fund research for a cure.
“For those who take care of friends, relatives or neighbors with Alzheimer’s, every day is the longest day,” said South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, who led staff and supporters of the Office on Aging in walking laps around the State House in shifts all day to raise awareness.
“We encourage people to learn about Alzheimer’s and prepare for it because it is coming,” McMaster said. He pointed out that more than 5 million Americans, including 84,000 in South Carolina, are currently living with Alzheimer’s. Those numbers are likely to increase dramatically as the overall population of people over 65 is expected to double over the next 20 years.
“If you don’t know somebody [who has Alzheimer’s], you will,” said Denise Heimlich, director of wellness at Still Hopes Episcopal Retirement Community in West Columbia. The Still Hopes staff, residents, and supporters took part in a NuStepping to End Alzheimer’s event at the community, with 112 riders taking 30-minute shifts on five of the elliptical machines, keeping the fundraiser going from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. “The NuStep corporation got really behind us. Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is important to them.”
“Everybody pitches in… We’re having a great time,” Heimlich said. “We have many people in their nineties. They usually don’t look it, because they exercise regularly.” The Still Hopes team raised $6,137 Monday, and will continue accepting donations through the end of June. Click here for more information on donating.
Dr. Jim Bouknight, a University of South Carolina professor and specialist in the in the treatment of dementias, emphasized the effect of Alzheimer’s not just on a person diagnosed, but all those who are part of that person’s life. “We never have one Alzheimer’s patient. It’s always a family,” he said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the total national cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated at $236 billion per year. As the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s grows, the total annual cost for health care, long-term care and hospice care for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to increase to more than $1 trillion in 2050.
Sheriff Leon Lott spoke of his personal experience with family members who had Alzheimer’s, and of the importance of Project Lifesaver, an effort to use tracking devices to make Alzheimer’s patients and those who suffer from other dementias safe from getting lost. Lott also repeated the day’s message of optimism.
“There is hope. We can work together, take care of each other, and hope to find a cure,” Lott said. “We stand tall with those with Alzheimer’s. We’re not going to forget them. We’re not going to walk away from them. We’re going to be there to support them any way we can.”
Pictured: Lt. Gov. McMaster leads the way in walking laps around the State House to raise awareness (photo by Allen Wallace)