Our older people deserve better from us. Happy birthday, Mum.

Those who have followed this blog for a while know that I have a personal interest in Alzheimer’s Disease. Yesterday would have been my mother’s 96th birthday, perhaps, had Alzheimer’s not claimed her three years ago.

I have previously written about my mother’s struggle, and other people’s here. https://wellthisiswhatithink.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/what-do-you-do-when-the-person-youve-loved-for-a-lifetime-just-isnt-there-any-more/

I have also written about the week of my mother’s death in the short story that is at the back of my book, 71 Poems & One Story.

Get behind Ms Buttrose’s campaign, before it’s too late

So I was doubly interested today to turn on the TV and catch famous Australian journalist and editor Ita Buttrose speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra today. The indomitable Ms Buttrose is now President and Ambassador for Alzheimer’s Australia, the peak advocacy body for those working in the field in Australia, and for the dementia patients they care for.

Her organisation is pleading with the Government to increase funding for research into this hideous illness by $200 million in the next 18 months. An ambitious target, but one that knowing Ms Buttrose’s indefatigable energy (and contacts) could hopefully be seen as realistic.

And a boost in research is long overdue. This most persistent and widespread disease, which robs its victims of dignity, capacity, and eventually their life, receives far less in research funding than HIV, heart disease, cancer, and even mental illness – which itself is appallingly badly funded.

A worthwhile goal

Whilst it is easy to get swept up by the emotion of the topic, I was very struck by Ita’s point that if researchers could delay the onset of dementia by just five years then the number of people with the problem would be halved.

In Australia, that would mean savings to the healthcare and aged care sector of 67 billion dollars by 2040. If that, in itself, doesn’t make the argument for significantly increased spending incontrovertibly one that should be supported, then the world – not just the sufferers – has gone mad.

By 2030, if nothing changes, 500,000 Australians will have dementia. By 2050, that figure will reach one million. That’s the equivalent of a city three times the size of Canberra: a city full of people who were once proud, strong and independent, and who are now lost, frightened, sick, and – especially as the illness increases its grip – frequently despairing.

Ms Buttrose is, quite rightly, keen to emphasise the positives, to hold out hope for a cure or better treatment, and to advocate for the support and well-being of sufferers, who deserve dignity and optimism in their care.

But if we do not accede to her demands, our caring systems, (which are already, as I sadly know, stretched to breaking point), will simply collapse. Sometimes, the cheery insistence of those who must, per se, strike a positive note, needs to be balanced with a little stark truth as well.

Because if we do nothing?

If we fail in this task, then the effect on families and individuals of the lack of care will be too horrible to contemplate.

Aged care facilities will become increasingly like prisons, effectively incarcerating sufferers for their own protection through lack of staff and money to take care of them properly.

Aware of the issues surrounding residential care, families will increasingly keep their aged dementia sufferers with them – leading to increased neglect and even abuse as the healthy buckle under the strain of caring for their elderly relatives without necessary facilities, drugs, or training. The blunt truth is that this is already happening.

Single demented people without social support structures – already a common sight in our shops and on our streets – will wander the bye-ways of life, confused, angry and frightened – burdening passers-by and the police and ambulance services.

Elderly suicides will spike dramatically. So will murder-suicides.

What can you do?

If you support Ita Buttrose’s campaign, please take a moment to write about it yourself, or re-blog or tweet this article.

Please also write to Alzheimer’s Australia at nat.admin@alzheimers.org.au expressing your support, and also visit their website where you can discover a vast array of resources, and opportunities for you to help. And if you need immediate, direct advice, just call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

Please also write to your local MP, or email the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, urging our politicians to agree to an immediate substantial increase in research funding.

And if you are reading this overseas, please contact your local organisation, and politicians, to urge an increased effort in your country, too. And in America, specifically, you might like to join the fight for a fundraising stamp to be produced for Alzheimers research by clicking here.

This means you. Yes, you.

If for no other reason, make some active move in support of this campaign out of enlightened self interest. I am now 55. I really don’t want to get to 65 or 75 without some substantial progress having been made.

Like many, I have seen what Alzheimer’s does at first hand. No thank you, very much. If you doubt me, visit your local acute aged care facility and offer to volunteer for an afternoon. Then imagine you’re the patient, not the volunteer.

You won’t need any other motivation to get involved, believe me.

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  1. I will have to go look at what our private and public funding is. My father passed in 2009, he had Alzheimer’s but had been progressing slowly thanks to medication. When his wife passed in 2008 he made a decision to stop all medications (I supported his decision). His statement at my step-mothers burial was poignant and clear, he understood.

    My mother has dementia. We are in the process of moving her to assisted living, currently she has in-home care but it is only a couple of hours a day, very costly and simply not enough.

    I suspect in the US, as with many other things this is not something those in power care much about.


  2. Thanks for continuing to help raise awareness for the disease


  3. jvdix says:

    A bill backed by US against Alzheimer’s was introduced in both the House and Senate on February 2, 2012. The House bill made it to committee and languishes there. The Senate bill didn’t even get that far. The bill doesn’t seem to have received a lot of attention in the Senate, or in the House. US against Alzheimer’s is also on Facebook; I am not, but if you are, it might be a good one to follow.

    Not to take away from Alzheimer’s Speaks, which is clearly the place to be for personal support. US against Alzheimer’s would be if you want to dive into political action.


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