US mourns loss of Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver

It was announced today that Peace Corps founder and director Sargent Shriver has died at the age of 95.  Shriver,  father of Maria Shriver and widower of Kennedy sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was also an unsuccessful Vice-Presidential candidate who ran with George McGovern in 1972. Shriver had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for the past 8 years, which sparked  an intensive advocacy campaign  by his daughter and her husband, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In a statement by President Obama he stressed that “Sarge came to embody the idea of public service.” This is evident in many of the public roles he held: as head of the War on Poverty for President Lyndon B. Johnson, and as a leading force in Head Start, VISTA, the Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Neighborhood Health Services and the Special Olympics.

It is somewhat bittersweet that Shriver should die so shortly after a major piece of legislation to support the efforts against Alzheimer’s Disease was passed into law. The law, called  The National Alzheimer’s Project Act,  will create a coordinated national plan to overcome the Alzheimer crisis and will ensure the coordination and evaluation of all national efforts in Alzheimer research, clinical care, institutional, and home- and community-based programs and their outcomes. President Obama signed the bill into law on January 4th, 2011.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

Alzheimer’s is a national crisis, affecting Americans across all walks of life and across all regions of the country.

  • 5.3 million people – 5.1 million aged 65 and older – have Alzheimer’s disease, and another American develops Alzheimer’s every 70 seconds.
  • Caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias costs society a total of $172 billion, including $122 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Nearly 11 million caregivers provide care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias – unpaid care valued at $144 billion.

The Alzheimer’s crisis is only going to get worse.

  • In 2050, 13.5 million Americans aged 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s disease, and someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.
  • Caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in 2050 will cost Medicare and Medicaid over $800 billion (in today’s dollars).

Today there is no one government entity whose sole purpose is to mount a full campaign against Alzheimer’s disease. Based on the
recommendations offered by the Alzheimer’s Study Group (ASG),  an independent, bipartisan panel created to evaluate the government’s current efforts to combat the disease, this legislation creates a National Alzheimer’s Project Office at the Department of Health and Human Services and an inter-agency Advisory Council that is responsible for creating a national plan to confront the escalating crisis.

The National Alzheimer’s Project Act will:

  • Launch a campaign within the federal government to overcome Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Create a National Alzheimer’s Disease Plan.
  • Update and report the National Plan to Congress annually.
  • Establish an inter-agency Advisory Council that will coordinate and evaluate all federal efforts on Alzheimer’s research, care, institutional services, and home- and community-based programs.
  • Accelerate the development of treatments that would prevent, halt, or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Ensure the inclusion of racial populations at higher risk for developing the disease.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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