While many voters are focused on the economy, national security, education or Social Security in this presidential election year, Alzheimer's research advocates are hoping to put the disease front and center.
More than 1 in 3 likely voters have a loved one with Alzheimer's, and 60 percent of those voters are worried that a loved one will develop it, according to a new poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies in concert with Laszlow Strategies. And those voters' worry is not without foundation: Every 68 seconds, another American develops the disease. Of those age 65 or older, one in 8 will be diagnosed -- and if you live to be 85, your chances of developing it are 1 out of 2 (50 percent), according to the Alzheimer's Association. Caring for people with Alzheimer's will cost $20 trillion during the next 40 years -- the bulk of which will come from Medicare and Medicaid, which makes it an issue affecting taxpayers of all ages.
Yet it hasn't become the talked-about election issue. President Obama in February announced an Alzheimer's research initiative and we all know that GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother lived with him when he was in high school. Beyond that? Not much.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and head of Laszlo Strategies who once was the spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, would like to see more discussion about it. Laszlo has lost four close relatives to Alzheimer's and now brings a special passion to working toward making Alzheimer's help -- both a cure and relief for family caregivers -- a national priority.
Laszlo's involvement began with watching the decline of a great-aunt, a vivacious woman who she describes as her "closest best friend in the world." The two lived together when her aunt was in her 80s and still running an international company with a presence in 22 countries. Her aunt, who died just short of her 100th birthday, needed 24/7 care for the last seven years of her life and went from being fluent in five languages to eventually only speaking one -- her native Hungarian. But the worst part, says Laszlow, was that her aunt died not recognizing anyone -- "not even herself."
"It was a horrible decline," said Laszlo, who also watched her grandmother, step-grandmother and husband's mother suffer the same degeneration.
Laszlo said that all four of her relatives went from being thriving successful individuals who traveled widely, spoke publicly, made business decisions that impacted the lives of many -- to becoming people who needed help doing the most basic of tasks. "It was just heartbreaking," she said.
In the case of Laszlo's relatives, the family was able to afford the care they needed. But that situation is the exception to the rule. Based on her work with the Alzheimer's Association, Laszlo described the life of families where an adult child is forced to leave their job to stay at home and care for a declining parent.
"You see what happens time and time again," she said, "You see the strain on the family. The adult child does everything for a period of time and then they just can't do it anymore. There is no break, no relief from it. This disease is so hard on the individual who has it, but it also causes such suffering for the family too."
The poll found that 1 in 5 likely voters -- across party lines -- were more likely to vote for someone who is committed to making Alzheimer’s a national priority. In a close election, that can more than determine the outcome.
So, will our next president be known as the Alzheimer's president?