June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the progress and raise awareness of the challenges we face in our national effort to end Alzheimer's - the sixth leading cause of death in America and the only leading cause without significant treatment options. Many of us know firsthand the impact of the disease. It robs our loved ones of their remaining years, leads to deterioration of physical ability and mental capacity, and erases a lifetime of cherished memories.
While Alzheimer's doesn't discriminate between old and young, black and white, or rich and poor, we now know that women bear the burden of the disease at rates far higher than men - and in more ways than you might realize.
Widely considered one of the largest public health threats facing America, more than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer's, two-thirds of whom are women. Doctors and public health professionals have suggested several explanations for this disparity - from women's longer average life spans to the higher levels of certain hormones in women. But as researchers continue to investigate the reasons why, the fact remains that American women face an uphill fight against Alzheimer's.
And they don't fight alone. Millions more women join them in this struggle - as caregivers and advocates. As the disease progresses, patients increasingly require around the clock care - a necessity that many cannot afford. As a result, children, siblings, spouses and friends often shoulder this responsibility for their loved ones. More than 15 million people provided 18.1 million hours of unpaid care last year alone - and two-thirds of those caregivers were women. Whether by choice or necessity, these caregivers provide for patients who can no longer provide for themselves. Unfortunately, as many have discovered, this perpetuates the cycle. When caregivers sacrifice their time, their health, and often their jobs and benefits, they also risk having to rely on the next generation - their children and even grandchildren - as they age without a financial safety net.
How can America begin to disrupt this trend? By continuing to search for ways to effectively treat Alzheimer's that will help end the cycle. Every day, medical researchers, neuroscientists, pharmaceutical developers, advocates, and health care professionals are moving closer to groundbreaking treatments. They refuse to give up hope for a cure. Nor do the millions of patients fighting the disease or their caregivers, so many of whom are women.
And we're not giving up, either.
Because in this era of unmatched medical achievement and discovery, we've come to learn that anything is possible.