By Representative Derek Kilmer
Several years ago, as a member of the legislature, I sat down with a family in my office. They told me about the terrible toll that Alzheimer’s had taken on their family. The father – who was in his early 50s – said that early-onset Alzheimer’s had meant an early end to his career and to his sense of productivity.
His wife said that this diagnosis had upended their plans for retirement – that it had redefined the definition of their ‘golden years.’ Their kids were in the room and feared that they wouldn’t create new memories with their dad, they simply prayed that he would be able to hold on to the ones he had.
I was struck by a number of things that day – and in subsequent visits with Ambassadors from the Alzheimer’s Association now that I’m serving as the member of Congress for Washington’s 6th District. First, I was struck by the statistics they shared about just how common their stories are. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and nearly 5.3 million Americans are living with the disease in 2015.
But I was also struck by the sense of hope the families and caregivers that I’ve met over the years have felt. They’ve embraced a simple adage – “Don’t agonize – organize.” Through the powerful advocacy of the Alzheimer’s Association, you’ve actually seen Congress start to do something about this as well.
Last year, I cosponsored the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act, a bill signed into law that requires scientists to detail how much funding they will need on a yearly basis to get a handle on Alzheimer’s by 2025. This year, we are making a push for the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act that would look at how to manage care for Medicare patients newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Both are important bills that were developed with the support of the Alzheimer’s Association.
On the House Appropriations Committee, I’m also dedicated to fighting for the investments we need to boost the kind of research that will give us breakthroughs. Congress needs to set aside harmful across-the-board cuts under sequestration and work toward a long-term budget deal that will enable these critical investments. I am continuing to fight hard to lift the unreasonable budget caps that jeopardize our ability to make targeted investments into high-priority areas, such as tackling Alzheimer’s.
These would be good steps, but I am pushing for Congress to do more. It’s time for us to make a concerted effort to beat back a disease that continues to rob so many of who they are. You can help by seeking out your state legislators and members of Congress and sharing your story.
I look forward to continuing to keep my oar in the water with dedicated partners like those you’ll find at the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter. Together we can make a difference for every family dealing with Alzheimer’s.
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