Alzheimer's is a horrific and terrifying disease. It wreaks havoc on the mind, destroying memories and stealing one's past.
In the early stages of Alzheimer's, patients know what's happening and what's coming. They'll forget the good times they've had with their friends; they'll forget where they grew up; they'll lose their most cherished memories. They know that one day they will wake up and not recognize their children from strangers on the street.
I know this because my family and I witnessed the heart-wrenching progression of this disease as my own father suffered through it.
For caretakers, Alzheimer's is just as unforgiving. The people we have loved for years don't recognize us, and while we know why, it still hurts. As many of you know, one of the most frightening parts of trying to help someone with Alzheimer's is when--for whatever reason--the loved one goes missing.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that one in eight older Americans is afflicted with Alzheimer's; more than 5.4 million people total in the United States. That's 5.4 million mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. These people are our neighbors. Our parents. Our grandparents. Our friends.
I am proud to have cosponsored important legislation in Congress called The National Alzheimer's Project Act in 2010. This landmark legislation, signed into law by President Obama in 2011, required the creation of an annually updated national strategic approach to address the rapidly escalating Alzheimer's crisis. Because of this legislation, the United States has our first-ever National Alzheimer's Plan. On May 15, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services released the plan with five overarching goals:
Prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's disease by 2025;
Enhance care quality and efficiency;
Expand supports for people with Alzheimer's disease and their families;
Enhance public awareness and engagement
Improve data to track progress.
This September 21st is World Alzheimer's Action Day. It is a day to mark our progress in fighting this disease, but it is also a day to renew our dedication to defeating it. I pledge to continue working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to find additional solutions that make a positive difference for Alzheimer's patients -- and the countless people who love and support them.