Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Younger Alzheimer's Victims Find Less Aid, Fewer Services

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Younger Alzheimer's Victims Find Less Aid, Fewer Services

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- The Alzheimer's Association, which traditionally has focused on the millions of senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease, now has another concern: the hundreds of thousands of people under age 65 stricken by the debilitating brain disorder.

While the disease has always claimed many middle-age victims, their needs are eclipsed by seniors, who can participate in a host of programs funded by the Older Americans Act. The federal funds help only those older than 60.

Larry De Vico, whose 54-year-old wife, Maryann, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago, says that is age discrimination.

The De Vicos face a double whammy typical to early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which occurs in people under 65. The disease sidelined Maryann's ability to hold a job, leaving Larry, who works at an auto air-conditioning shop, to pay all the bills.

The Alzheimer's Association concedes that more needs to be done for the early-onset population -- estimated at anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000, 5 percent to 10 percent of all those diagnosed with the disease.

For Larry De Vico, finding affordable day care for Maryann has proved a challenge. If she were older than 60, she'd be eligible for free services under the Older Americans Act. Instead, the couple is looking at an $800 monthly day-care bill, about half of De Vico's monthly income.

"I'm between a rock and a hard place now," the Davie resident said. "There's a limit to what you can do in life on your own."

With techniques for diagnosing the disease improving, the early-onset population is only likely to grow.

"We're really just getting to understand what the issues are for these individuals and their families," said Kara Albisu, a director in the program services division of the national Alzheimer's Association, based in Chicago.

Alzheimer's disease first entered the public consciousness with stories like those of the De Vicos -- couples devastated in middle age by the untimely appearance of what looked to be senile dementia. As neurologists realized that this biological process mirrored that of senility, Alzheimer's disease morphed from an anomaly of middle age into a public health problem.

Estimates suggest that about 4 million people have Alzheimer's disease, with about 404,000 cases in Florida. Because the incidence of the disease increases with age, about half of people older than 85 are affected by Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, about 14 million people are expected to have the disease.

The Older Americans Act uses federal funds to help respite programs for seniors, such as in-home services and adult day care, which serve people with Alzheimer's disease as well as other seniors. People who do not meet the age requirement also can participate if they pay their own expenses. …

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