June 6, 2006
Senator Clinton Calls for Action to Help People Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
Former Air Force Serviceman and Teacher from Getzville and Researcher from New York City Join Senator Clinton to Raise Awareness of Early Onset Alzheimer’s
Washington, DC – At a briefing of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer ’s disease today, on the topic of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton joined with patients, caregivers, and advocates to raise awareness about this form of the disease that strikes individuals under the age of 65. Senator Clinton, who co-chairs the Task Force with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) called on her colleagues to increase research funding and support legislation that would enhance respite care services and improve screening and treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
“Today, about 4.5 million Americans over the age of 65 are living with Alzheimer’s. In New York alone, it is estimated that Alzheimer’s directly impacts 330,000 people. But contrary to what is generally acknowledged, Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the elderly,” Senator Clinton said. “When Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias unexpectedly strike younger individuals, they face daunting challenges in addition to the disease itself, like difficulty obtaining a diagnosis, early retirement and the loss of jobs and income.”
Americans with early onset Alzheimer’s can have trouble obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and problems gaining access to health care insurance. If they do have health insurance they may face higher premiums and deductibles. The toll on family members can be devastating—emotionally, financially, and personally. Some have to give up jobs to care for their loved one. Others have to make hard choices between paying for health care and basic living expenses.
At the briefing, Members of Congress heard from Jennifer Manly, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuropsychology in Neurology, G.H. Sergievsky Center & the Taub Institute for Research in Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease at Columbia University and several people suffering from and caring for loved ones with early-onset Alzheimer’s, including Dr. Gerald Michalak, who served in the United States Air Force as a member of the Sixth Combat Defense Squad, Strategic Air Command (SAC) and taught elementary school in the Williamsville Central School System in Getzville, NY for over 30 years. In approximately 1998, Dr. Michalak began experiencing memory problems. He saw his primary care physician who diagnosed the problems as stress-related. However, his memory problems continued to worsen, despite repeated visits to the doctor. Further loss of expressive language and cognitive abilities led to his retirement in June 2000 as his condition continued to decline. Finally, in June 2005—at age 62—he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Dr. Michalak’s story and others like it are proof of why we must increase awareness and education about those with early onset Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias and further evidence of why we must continue to push for critical investments in research and treatment,” Senator Clinton said. “I am hopeful that together we can combat this disease and do all we can to bring hope, help and an eventual cure to the millions of Americans with Alzheimer’s.”
At the briefing, the Alzheimer’s Association also released a report entitled A Hidden Generation of Dementia: A National Challenge, A Future Crisis that uses data from the nationwide Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) and testimonials to tell the story of early onset dementia that affects an understudied subset of the population.
“Although we have made progress in the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of Alzheimer’s over the past 15 years, this new report and these personal stories are a reminder we must do more,” Senator Clinton said. “We must continue to make this disease a national priority. This means directing more resources to learn how to identify early onset dementia and stop its progression.”
Senator Clinton has long fought for funding for research into Alzheimer ’s disease and for more support and services for those touched by it. She is fighting for passage of the Lifespan Respite Care Act to enhance respite care services available to family members caring for individuals with diseases like Alzheimer’s. Earlier this year, she succeeded in attaching an amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution to restore critical funding to the National Family Caregiver Support Program, Meals on Wheels and other programs that provide support to seniors, including those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The Senator’s amendment ensures that funding for Alzheimer’s, preventative health, nutrition, family caregiver and ombudsmen services are protected for our seniors, including funding for the Alzheimer’s 24/7 Contact Center, which provides families of Alzheimer patients access to life-saving assistance any hour of the day. Her amendment also prevents elimination of critical funding to states for the development of innovative programs to help those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. In fiscal year 2005, 38 states received such grants, including $290,000 received by the New York State Office for the Aging. Senator Clinton will continue to fight for this funding in the appropriations process. Senator Clinton also supported the doubling of the National Institutes of Health research budget initiated during the Clinton Administration and she continues to fight for increased research funding to find cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In April, Senator Clinton was honored with the “Remembrance Award” from the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at the Third Annual National Alzheimer’s Gala sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association.