To the Editor:
Today there are 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease and my grandfather, Marvin Stakey, was one of the millions who suffered. My grandmother, Shirley Stakey, was one of the nation's nearly 15 million Alzheimer caregivers. My grandfather suffered with Alzheimer's for more than 13 years and as a young child I assisted with my grandfather in any way I could: guiding him through doorways or creating 4-H projects in hopes of sparking memories from his past. For the last eight years I have worked with the Alzheimer's Association Greater Iowa Chapter to help plan and organize the Alzheimer's Memory Walk in Ames.
As I began at the University of Northern Iowa, I met with members of the East Central Iowa Alzheimer's Association in hopes of creating a student organization. By November, Advocates for Alzheimer's was created and would host QUASH (Quest to Unravel Alzheimer's Scavenger Hunt) on UNI's campus as the second campus in the nation to pilot this national fundraiser. Over the past two years this student organization was able to host this event and raise over $20,000.
On May 15-17, 2010 I was in Washington, D.C., to participate in the Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum, the largest gathering of Alzheimer's Advocates annually. I spoke with my Representative and Senators about what this disease has done to my family and about the challenges of witnessing Alzheimer's slowly steal a cherished member of my family away - before my very eyes. I met with the staff member of Representative Latham while other members of the Greater Iowa group meet with the staff members of Representatives Boswell, Braley, and King, as well as Senators Grassley and Harkin.
Nearly 15 million friends and family members provide 17 billion hours unpaid care valued at more than $202 billion dollars for a loved one with Alzheimer's or another dementia, including 31,854 Iowa caregivers who provide unpaid care valued at nearly $1.8 billion. Currently the sixth leading cause of death, Alzheimer's is the only cause of death among the top 10 causes without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression. Among the 5.4 million people living with the disease, 69,000 live right here in Iowa.
The nation's leaders must make a solid commitment to address the escalating Alzheimer's crisis and this means addressing the chronic underinvestment in research while also doing all we can to help families today manage the devastating disease. I went to Washington to use my voice, share my family's experience and create change.