A recent article in The Post and Courier reported that the rising cost of nursing home care has affected the price and availability of long-term care insurance policies, but the report did not mention an important reason why this has happened: Dementia care units are now among the fastest growing parts of the nursing home business. Nearly 60 percent of all nursing home patients have Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. People with Alzheimer’s spend 40 percent of their time in the most severe stage, requiring long-term care.

Alzheimer’s ranks among the leading causes of death in the United States, and the rate is escalating. Shockingly, Alzheimer’s is the only major cause of death with absolutely no way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 30 years ago. Since then, medical research has made remarkable advances in preventing, treating and sometimes curing cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease. On the other hand, Americans who develop Alzheimer’s today have the same bleak future my father had. You could be at risk, too, if you live into your 80s, when half of all people develop dementia.

The numbers are terrible. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and the number grows as baby boomers age. Today over 80,000 South Carolinians and their families struggle with the severe physical, emotional and financial costs of the disease. In 2020 that number will be 95,000, and in 2025 it will be 120,000.

The costs are terrible, too. Can you afford annual nursing home fees that average over $50,000? Medicare pays a very limited amount. State Medicaid helps only after a patient’s savings are gone.

This year the total cost in our country for Alzheimer’s care is estimated at $226 billion, with nearly three-fourths paid by Medicaid and Medicare. However, money for Alzheimer’s research is currently less than half of one percent of that cost — just $586 million. Research for cancer, HIV/AIDS and cardiovascular disease is in the billions. No wonder progress has been made on those diseases.

On March 25, I went to Washington, D.C., along with 1,000 other people from across the country to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum.

We visited our members of Congress to request $300 million in new research money. We also asked them to co-sponsor the HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act, which would allow Medicare reimbursement to doctors who help Alzheimer’s patients and families plan how to deal with the coming years of this catastrophic illness.

I hope you will add your voice to mine by contacting Sen. Graham, Sen. Scott and Rep. Sanford. Urge them to support the increased funding and co-sponsor the Hope for Alzheimer’s Act. Sen. Scott took part on March 25 in a congressional hearing on Alzheimer’s and said that he knows the hardship firsthand about Alzheimer’s from his grandmother’s illness.

And there’s one more thing you can do: Be a research volunteer at the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Roper-St. Francis Hospital in Charleston. I’m a volunteer, and I can tell you it’s gratifying to be a guinea pig when the cause is so serious and the personal stakes are so high.

SHARON FRATEPIETRO

George Street

Charleston