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AARP Steps Up Fight Against Alzheimer's and Dementia

The COVID-19 pandemic makes the need to reduce the risk even more urgent

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Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Jo Ann Jenkins

En español | Often lost in the sea of information about the coronavirus is the devastating impact it has on people with dementia and their loved ones. Since most people who suffer with dementia and Alzheimer's disease are older and have other underlying conditions, the cognitive decline that comes with dementia puts them at even higher risk. Also, COVID-19 presents differently in people with dementia. For example, 3 in 4 people with dementia and COVID will not have a fever. Delirium is far more common for those with dementia.

While we don't have national data on the number of cases and deaths among people with dementia and Alzheimer's, we do know that they make up close to half of the people who live in long-term care facilities, where deaths have been particularly high. And, for people with dementia who have remained otherwise healthy, the pandemic has disrupted their routines, separated them from loved ones and made caregiving especially difficult.

This takes a devastating toll, not only on those who are suffering but also on their caregivers. Women are at the center of this crisis. Why? Because two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's are women, and more than 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers are women.

As part of AARP's long-term commitment to combating this devastating disease, we have implemented a three-part strategy focused on prevention, care and cure. Our goals are to reduce risks for cognitive decline, to create opportunities for people living with dementia and their caregivers, and to spark hope for the future by investing to help find a cure. This effort takes on added significance during the current pandemic.

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This month, we have taken two important steps to increase our efforts to help those suffering from Alzheimer's and other types of dementia and their caregivers. We joined with USAgainstAlzheimer's and more than 80 health, aging and advocacy groups and leaders today calling for the United States to set a national prevention goal to ultimately reduce the number of people who develop Alzheimer's and related dementias.

More specifically, we're calling for the adoption of a national, measurable, time-bound impact prevention goal for Alzheimer's and related dementias and seeking a national commitment to reducing dementia similar to efforts to reduce heart disease and other health challenges.

We also joined with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging to launch the Alliance to Improve Dementia Care. The alliance, which also includes other founding members the Alzheimer's Association, Biogen and the John A. Hartford Foundation, will seek to transform and improve the complex health and long-term care systems that people at risk for and living with dementia must navigate. It comes at a critical time as we seek to build workforce capacity and implement comprehensive dementia-care models to effectively identify people living with dementia, tailor services to meet their needs and those of their caregivers, and ensure they get the right care at the right time. The alliance will also work to develop and promote policies that reduce disparities in prevalence and access to services for populations at the highest risk for dementia (e.g., women and communities of color).

AARP is in this for the long term. We have also invested $60 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund to pay for research and development aimed at creating cutting-edge treatments — and, ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.

We convened the Global Council on Brain Health to bring together scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts around the world to debate the latest in brain health science and to translate critical scientific information on brain health into simple actions people can take every day to help them stay sharp throughout their lives.

And our Staying Sharp digital platform has tons of advice to help people protect and strengthen their brains. At AARP we recognize that we can't simply sit back and wait for a cure. We need to work now to reduce risk, improve care and help people keep their brains healthy while they age. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this work even more urgent.

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