Two years ago, Dave Baker’s and Susan Harvell’s lives took an unexpected turn. At 52 years old, Harvell was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“I didn’t really notice it,” Harvell told Andrea Mitchell today. “My husband noticed it, because I kept asking the same questions over and over.”
Susan isn’t alone. More than five million Americans live every day with Alzheimer’s Disease–a disease with no cure or way to prevent it. And it affects more than just the individual patient.
“It’s certainly been difficult on our family,” said Dave Baker, the primary caregiver for his wife. “Susan had a great career and she had to stop doing that. That’s been a big part of her life. You know, Alzheimer’s pretty much affects a family in every way that there is.”
NBC kicked off a series of special reports this week lead by Special Anchor Maria Shriver dedicated to looking at the age of Alzheimer’s.
“This is National Alzheimer’s Month and NBC is trying to focus attention on this disease which seems to be impacting almost everyone you talk to,” NBC special anchor Maria Shriver told Andrea Mitchell Tuesday on Andrea Mitchell Reports.
Maria Shriver is no stranger to dealing with Alzheimer’s. Her father Sargent Shriver was diagnosed in 2003 with the disease. She testified in front of Congress in 2009 while her father was still alive.
“Sargent Shriver was an idealistic, intelligent, optimistic public servant: sharp, witty, a walking encyclopedia. His mind a beautifully tuned instrument that left people in awe and inspired. That was then. Today he doesn’t know my name or who I am. To be honest, that’s still really difficult to wrap my own mind around. But that’s the heartbreak and the reality of Alzheimer’s. A reality that’s terrifying and incomprehensible,” Shriver said.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the country’s most expensive disease, costing the United States $203 billion dollars annually. That figure could be as high as $1.2 trillion dollars by 2050.
Yet it is funded less than other diseases. According to estimates from the National Institute of Health, the government will spend $562 million in 2014 on Alzheimer’s compared to $5.7 billion for cancer and $3 billion for HIV/AIDS.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and with low funding, research has been slow. But there is some progress. Dr. Howard Fillit, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation told Andrea Mitchell the FDA approved the first diagnostic test in 2012 to detect the brain for Alzheimer’s disease.
“That has really enabled us to see early Alzheimer’s disease, even to note that people develop Alzheimer’s disease 20 years before they even begin to develop memory problems and this test has enabled us to begin prevention trials,” Fillit said.