Weekly Columns

A Passion for Ending Alzheimer's

Senator John Boozman's Column for the Week of November 28, 2011

Nov 28 2011

I met Frank Broyles as a teenager when I went to the U of A to play offensive tackle for the Razorbacks in the late-60’s. As a coach and longtime athletic director for the university, it is clear that his devotion to the university and the state to help Arkansas’ athletics succeed is a major priority in his life, but in recent years his number one passion has turned to advocating for Alzheimer’s Disease research.

Coach offers a unique perspective on the disease after it claimed the life of his wife Barbara in 2004. His personal experience of how he first found out about Barbara’s illness, his family’s roll as a caregiver and the impact her death has had on his life has been beneficial on a number of fronts including raising awareness and education and securing funding to develop a cure.

Coach is not alone. His story is shared by millions of Americans who struggle to care for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  

That is why we recognize November as National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. Today, 60 thousand Arkansans 65 years and older are living with this disease. Nationwide an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to continue increasing. By 2050 as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the only cause of death among the top ten in America without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression.  

The disease knows no boundaries and can affect anyone. In a letter to the American people in late 1994 former President Ronald Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and expressed his hope that his battle would raise awareness. While we have learned much more since his diagnosis, there is still much that needs to be done.

Last December, with my support, Congress approved the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA). This requires creation of a national strategic plan to address the rapidly escalating Alzheimer’s disease crisis. There is a genuine concern that as the population ages, this will become a real epidemic. NAPA is an important step in fighting against this disease.

After getting input from more 43 thousand people nationwide, including patients with Alzheimer's, caregivers, researchers, health care professionals and community leaders, the Alzheimer’s Association released a report in early November identifying the critical challenges that need to be addressed in the national plan. These key issues included increasing awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s, fostering an environment that offers more effective treatments faster and providing better care throughout the disease process.

As a member of the medical community, I understand how devastating Alzheimer's disease can be not only for the person diagnosed, but for the person's family as well. These challenges identified in this report will help us as we move forward and tackle this disease.

With the help of people like Coach Broyles who have been experienced the loss of a loved one from Alzheimer’s, we can help raise awareness and turn compassion into passion to ensuring continued outreach and research on Alzheimer 's disease.