Jane Nelson: Alzheimer’s impacts
lives of many Texans

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With the passing of Darrell K. Royal last month, Texas not only lost a legend, but also a strong advocate in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Earlier this year, he and his wife, Edith, appeared be­fore the Texas Leg­islature’s Joint Inter­im Com­mittee to Study Alz­heimer’s Dis­ease — a committee I co-chaired — to raise awareness.

In honor of coach Royal,  I’d like to call attention to this currently irreversible and terminal disease that affects nearly 350,000 Texans.

Unfortunately, that number is expected to double by 2050. Alzheimer’s is a progressive, age-related disease that afflicts the brain, causing problems with memory, thinking and day-to-day functions.

The disease causes a slow decline in cognitive, behavioral and physical abilities, with devastating impacts not only to the person suffering, but also to the person’s family, friends and caregivers — as well as our health care system.

As the primary caretaker for my mother before her death from Alzheimer’s in 2001, I understand the impact of this disease and why it is often referred to as “the long goodbye.”

I watched my mother — the strongest force in my life — transform into a person who could no longer feed, bathe or care for herself over eight agonizing years.

In 2011, 1.27 million unpaid caregivers in Texas provided more than 1.4 billion hours of care. The care provided by these heroes takes a toll, not only in missed hours at work and with family, but also in added physical and mental stress.

This, of course, does not account for the grief families face following a loved one’s passing. More than 5,000 Texans die with Alzheimer’s every year.

Alzheimer’s also impacts our health care system with costs expected to increase as our overall population continues to ma­ture.

In 2012, national health care costs for Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s were estimated at $200 billion, with more than half of those costs paid by Medicare and nearly 20 percent by Medicaid.

There is reason to believe that we are closer than ever before to a cure for this disease. In Texas, several organizations have formed to support Alzheimer’s research and caregiver support — many of which are active locally.

The North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association can be reached at 817-336-4949, as well as the Greater Dallas Chapter at 214-540-2400.

Take Time Texas connects caregivers with local support services, and more information can be found at www.dads.state.tx.us/taketimetexas/about/availableservices.html.

During his appearance before our committee, coach Royal and his wife gave compelling testimony about the impact of this disease on Texas families. 

I will never forget his comment, “I feel like I’m home,” when he testified at the state Capitol.

We will greatly miss coach Royal. He made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of student athletes.

Included among his lasting legacies is his foundation, which is committed to not only fund research to find a cure for Alz­heimer’s, but also to care for those currently affected by the disease.

To support the Darrell K. Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer’s Disease and to find out more, please visit www.dkrfund.org.


SEN. JANE NELSON, R-Flower Mound, represents District 12, including portions of Denton and Tarrant counties. 


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