Absent Effective Treatments, Good Care Is the Best Medicine for Alzheimer's

For those of us who have cared for someone with Alzheimer's or a related dementia, we know that it's relentless, exhausting work. It's a job that that takes you away from sleep, from work and from the simple things in life that provide joy. And yet, in the absence of an effective therapy for this difficult disease, effective care remains the best therapy.

That is why, for over thirty years, The New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has focused on developing and delivering programs and services that ease the burden of a dementia caregiver - which benefits the caregiver, the person with the disease, and their family.

And providing quality care has never been more important. Today, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed. Right now, 5.3 million Americans have this deadly disease - more than a quarter of a million right here in New York City. By 2030, without treatments or a cure, nationwide, this number will skyrocket to 13.8 million.

Worldwide, top researchers, scientists, and medical professionals at renowned hospitals, universities, research centers, and pharmaceutical companies are working day-in and day-out to discover the causes, to develop effective treatments, and to find a cure for Alzheimer's and related dementias. Whether they are investigating beta-amyloid plaques, tau protein tangles, genetics, the effect of environment or lifestyle, their dedication is unparalleled.

And while great strides have been made over the past decade in diagnostics - allowing us to get help earlier to those who need it most - Alzheimer's research remains poorly funded in comparison to other diseases with far fewer patients. For instance, total funding allocated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for HIV/AIDS research dwarfed the funding for Alzheimer's in 2014 (almost $2.978 billion vs. $562 million), yet almost five times as many Americans today are living with Alzheimer's than HIV (1.1 million). In the absence of an effective therapy, our focus MUST be on care.

Research by Dr. Mary Mittleman, Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, demonstrates that good care does make a difference. For instance, caregivers who get help experience less depression and distress. And, just as significantly, Dr. Mittleman's research also shows that caregivers who get counseling are able to keep their family member home and out of a nursing home longer than those who don't get services.

Care is where we excel, here in New York City.

For more than 30 years, we have provided compassionate care and life-saving support for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with dementia and their caregivers. Many of our programs - including caregiver workshops, early stages support services, culturally sensitive outreach initiatives for the Latino, African American, Chinese, Russian, LGBT, and Orthodox Jewish communities, cultural arts programs, and training programs for medical professionals and home health aides - are models for the rest of the nation. Perhaps most significant among these is the groundbreaking wanderer's safety program developed by the Chapter's own Jed Levine in the early 1990s, which became one of the prototypes for the nationwide MedicAlert® Foundation + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return® program.

In New York, we work from a position of strength. The quality resources at our fingertips are endless. Over the past three decades, we have developed extraordinary long-term relationships with important community partners including top medical centers, researchers, long-term care facilities, home health services, the clergy, government officials, and the philanthropic community. These enduring relationships enhance the important care we provide. We are shepherds, of a sort, guiding people to the best outside resources available.

We all live in hope for a world without Alzheimer's. But until that day comes, the most important thing we can do is to provide support for those who care for others.

The best medicine for Alzheimer's, right now, is good care. And, here at 360 Lexington Avenue, right in the heart of midtown Manhattan, care is our mission. This will never change.