Op-Ed: Follow the purple brick road to end Alzheimer’s and other dementias

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The following op-ed was written by Jeanie Greenwell, a registered nurse who works at a memory care facility in Fort Thomas and is an advocate for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

This November, as a nurse, I am proudly recognizing National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month.

As a volunteer legislative advocate with the Alzheimer’s Association, I understand the challenges that Kentucky caregivers are facing. In 2021, dementia caregivers provided an estimated 16 billion hours of unpaid care. This is a contribution to the nation valued at $271 billion.

While these statistics are staggering, they don’t reflect the emotional, physical and financial strain that comes with providing dementia care for a family member or loved one on a daily basis. It is true that “there’s no place like home.” Unfortunately, “home” is not typically a safe or viable place to care for a loved one with mid to late stage Alzheimer’s Disease.

I have been a nurse for 17 years. I proudly graduated from Mount St. Joseph University with a Master of Science in Nursing. I am ANCC (American Nurse Credentialing Center) Board Certified in Gerontological Nursing and I have worked the majority of my career with patients and residents who suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias.

Caregivers are constantly bombarded with conflicting emotions. Hope versus despair is a never-ending cycle. The worst aspect of Alzheimer’s is the frustrating fact that each individual faces a terrifyingly different struggle each day. There are no set patterns of behavior. It is impossible to predict how Alzheimer’s will affect each individual brain. 

Jeanie Greenwell. Photo provided | Jeanie Greenwell

I have had the distinct honor to meet the many families, caregivers, friends and neighbors who display a massive amount of fortitude, courage and grace when striving to help their loved ones cope with this horrible disease. I see the pure devotion and dedication these families provide to their loved ones and I viscerally know that we must do everything we can to fight to end Alzheimer’s.

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As part of my role as a volunteer legislative advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) for the 4th Congressional District of Kentucky represented by Congressman Thomas Massie, I had the distinct privilege to attend the Alzheimer’s Association /AIM Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C. this past May.

The compassionate and urgent messages and stories shared by advocates from all across the United States with the members of the Senate & the House of Representatives was an electrifying experience.

I will never forget standing in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building, proudly taking a group picture with the other Kentucky and Southern Indiana advocates. A true treasure for those of us working tirelessly to secure funding for a cure for Alzheimer’s. The palpable sense of hope for a future without Alzheimer’s made us dizzy with joy. Thank you to the NKY & Southern Indiana #DREAMTEAM for sharing this experience with me!

That dizzying sense of joy is tempered, in part, with an urgent need for research funding immediately. The science to provide a cure is ahead of the required money to make the cure a reality. This year, the Alzheimer’s Association is asking for $226 million to provide Alzheimer’s and other dementias research funding. In 2021, Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost the nation $321 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise to more than $952 billion.

For these reasons and more, please join me and the Alzheimer’s Association in encouraging Congressman Thomas Massie to support additional research funding so we can offer hope to the millions of American families affected by this disease. Follow us on our journey on the “purple brick road.” Please support us in our determination to meet the first survivor of Alzheimer’s Disease. The power lies within us to make this a reality. 

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