Some of the hardest conversations I have with my employees concern aging parents.
The conversation comes up often in small ways. An employee needs to leave early to take a parent to the doctor. Someone needs to find her mother appropriate housing. A colleague is moving to be closer to his parents, who don’t get around so well on their own any more.
Many of these are one-offs—issues that arise occasionally but don’t really impede day-to-day life. But sometimes, it’s much more burdensome.
Sometimes it’s Alzheimer’s disease.
The numbers around Alzheimer’s are startling. The disease is the 6th leading killer in the United States, claiming more victims each year than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined. (According to the National Institute on Aging, the disorder may in fact be the No. 3 cause of death for older people in the United States, just behind heart disease and cancer.) More than 16 million Americans, usually family members, provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias; they provide an estimated 18.4 billion care hours, valued at more than $232 billion, per year.
This is why I was so pleased to read about promising new research that suggests a potential solution may be closer. Researchers in Great Britain and Sweden have found a new way to target the toxic particles that destroy healthy brain cells.
Combine this with other recent news—a study that associates air pollution in Mexico City with Alzheimer’s and findings that abnormal RNA splicing has been linked to Alzheimer’s—and you have more clues about what possibly causes this complex disease.
Now, given that BLH works closely with medical researchers, I fully understand the caveats. These are only a couple of studies, and they’re not definitive. It doesn’t mean that we’ve found a cure. We haven’t—not by a long shot. There is a lot more research that needs to be done.
But in Alzheimer’s research, we need to celebrate our successes as we press forward. I look forward to the day when we can defeat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. I know all my employees feel the same way.