T here were a lot of interesting stories in Wednesday's York Dispatch, but none captured my attention more than the AP story on page A3 having to do with a new federal plan to fight Alzheimer's.
I read it a couple times, in fact.
My first thought? It's about time.
Why? Because it's important for all of us. Or should be.
And because it hits pretty close to home for me.
My mother has Alzheimer's disease, the worst, by far, of as many as 20 or 30 or 50 types or causes of dementia -- no one seems to know for sure how many -- that affect human beings.
And because Alzheimer's has a genetic component, there is every reason for me to be concerned about contracting the disease myself. And if not me, maybe my two children or my grandchildren.
Truth be told, every time I stumble trying to come up with the right word or someone's name or the title of a movie I just saw a month ago, I think about Alzheimer's. Every time I walk into a room and can't remember why I am there or what I am looking for, I think about Alzheimer's. Am I getting it? Or is memory loss just one of those things many people experience as they grow older?
For those of you who don't know, dementia is the loss of mental functions, such as thinking, memory, and reasoning, severe enough to interfere with a person's daily life.
Medical experts believe between 50 percent and 70 percent of all dementia is actually Alzheimer's disease.
My mother was first diagnosed six or seven years ago, and even with the help of modern prescription drugs designed to slow down the progression of Alzheimer's, she's definitely gotten worse year by year.
Slowly, but surely, the disease is taking over her brain, causing changes in her memory (especially her short-term memory), her personality, her mood and her behavior. All for the worse, I might add.
Let me tell you this, Alzheimer's is no way to live, and it's certainly no way to die. It's heartbreaking.
Today, Mom resides in a nursing home that has its own wing for Alzheimer's patients. It's filled to capacity.
Truth is, many, if not most, nursing homes in York County have a wing for Alzheimer's patients these days. That's how widespread the disease has become.
Does that mean it's a new disease? No. It just means today's doctors know a lot more about it than they did 25 years ago, 50 years ago or 100 years ago, when they just put the "crazy" aunt or "nutty" grandmother into an asylum, where they gradually went totally insane and eventually died.
Today, we're more civilized about our treatment of Alzheimer's -- about all forms of dementia, for that matter. Thanks goodness for that.
But the medical community is just scratching the surface on learning all there is to know about Alzheimer's. It needs to do better, and it knows it.
So it came as some relief to me and a lot of other people, I'm sure, when the National Institutes of Health announced earlier this week that a whole bunch of new research, designed to stop and/or reverse the effects of Alzheimer's by 2025, will kick off soon.
"A lot more needs to be done, and it needs to be done right now, because people with Alzheimer's disease and their loved ones and caregivers need help right now," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, when she announced the first National Alzheimer's Plan.
As it stands today, there are about 5.4 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Within 35 years, that number is expected to triple to about 16 million people.
Unless, of course, we find a cure. And if not a cure, at least a treatment to minimize its effects.
Maybe that will happen now that a first-ever "national strategy" on Alzheimer's disease is on the drawing board.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said, when announcing the launch of a number of new projects and clinical trials -- including some having to do with identifying genes related to Alzheimer's -- that the immediate goal was to find a way to slow progression of the disease.
That's a good start. Ambitious and well-timed.
It won't help my mom much. Too late for that, I guess.
And it might not even happen quickly enough to help me if Alzheimer's is in my future.
But my children and grandchildren? Your children and grandchildren?
I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.