Message from the Intern: Why Everyone Should Care about Alzheimer’s (Even Teenagers)

Posted July 28, 2009

I invite you, dear readers, to think of the species so confusing, so complex, that no one can understand it but the species itself. The species is the ultimate enigma, the eternal mystery, and though person after person seeks to explain its curious tendencies, its secrets remain concealed. For those of you who still haven’t figured out what species I am referring to, I will give you a hint: I, a college student, am a member. Still haven’t thought of it? Think harder. I guarantee that you know at least one, and, as unbelievable as it sounds, you were once a member of this species yourself. Still puzzled? Poor, feeble-minded adult. It is the one, the only: the human teenager.

Now you may think that because I am writing this post, I am about to divulge to you all the secrets of the teenage psyche. Nice try, but unfortunately for you, my loyalties lie to the other members of my generation. I am in fact writing to you to explain what issues young people care about, and why it is your job to ensure Alzheimer’s disease is added to this list.

On college campuses across the country, the issues my fellow students and I tend to care about most include poverty, gay marriage, abortion, etc. – social issues consistently featured on the news that often affect us directly. Diseases, especially those affecting only the elderly, are hardly on our radar. For example, I of course knew that Alzheimer’s disease was a form of dementia and that my great aunt was afflicted with it, but beyond that, I felt little connection to the disease. It took my working at the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund to find out that Alzheimer’s disease does and will affect me more directly than I realized.

To begin with, there is a high likelihood that I could develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Alzheimer’s strikes one in eight Americans over the age of 65 and almost half of Americans over 85. Even if I am lucky enough to avoid the disease, it will affect me financially. By 2010, Medicare expenditures for Alzheimer’s and other dementias are projected to increase to $160 billion, and Medicaid spending for nursing home care of those afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to reach $24 billion. This amounts to a whopping 27% of the combined expenditure for Medicare and Medicaid in 2010. And the cost will only increase unless we find a cure.

Even though Alzheimer’s disease almost entirely affects an older demographic, it is critical that younger generations proactively contribute to the search for a cure. In a troubled economy, and with an aging Baby Boomer population, Alzheimer’s disease will increasingly weigh down my generation both financially and emotionally. As an adult, therefore, it is your job to educate younger generations about Alzheimer’s disease. It may not be the issue nearest and dearest to their hearts, and as a teenager I can vouch for our stubborn and dismissive tendencies, but finding a cure for this taxing (both literally and figuratively) disease is more critical than most of us realize.

So, dear readers, though you may never discover the secrets of the teenage species, do not be discouraged. I assure you that if you assert your influence, educating my mysterious generation about Alzheimer’s disease and the fight for a cure, the results will surely be beneficial to all.