I just returned from the National Foundation for Women Legislators’ annual conference, where I joined other elected officials from across the country to discuss the most pressing issues facing our communities — including Alzheimer’s disease.

Alarmingly, there are an estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2016 more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care at an estimated cost of $230 billion for people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Here in Maine, there are 27,000 people living with the disease and 69,000 unpaid Alzheimer’s caregivers. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the state. Nearly two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and more than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women. This is a disease that disproportionately impacts women.

While there is no way to cure, prevent or slow the progression of the disease, early and documented diagnosis, when coupled with access to care planning services, leads to better outcomes for individuals with Alzheimer’s, as well as their caregivers. Fortunately, scientists across the nation are working toward medical breakthroughs.

With the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease projected to soar, people depend on the generosity of others to provide care until a cure can be found.

November is National Family Caregiver Month. Caregivers should be honored for their dedication and service to those affected by this debilitating disease.

Kristen Cloutier, Lewiston

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