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WHITING — Alzheimer's disease affects all of us, even if we don't know anyone who has the debilitating neurological condition.

That was the message behind a recent luncheon at the Mascot Hall of Fame to garner support for the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer's events in Crown Point and Michigan City.

"This disease is creating a ripple effect in our communities," said Sara Spruth, regional walk manager for the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Indiana, who recently lost her 77-year-old mother, Ana Rajcic Maravic, to the disease. "It doesn't just impact the person with the disease. It impacts everyone around them on so many levels."

Speakers at last Friday's event pointed out what Alzheimer's does to businesses and the community at large: 

  • 6 in 10 caregivers were employed in the past year, working an average of 35 hours a week.
  • 57% of those caregivers had to to work late, leave early or take time off to give care.
  • 18% of caregivers went from full time to part time, or otherwise cut back their hours; 9% gave up work entirely; and 6% retired early.
  • Alzheimer's cost $24,969 per person in Medicare spending in 2018 and $1.02 billion in Medicaid costs in 2019, a nearly 20% increase from 2015.

Nearly 6 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a number expected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050.

"Alzheimer's is the only disease that steals your past and robs your future," said Amy Murray, development director for the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Indiana.

So finding a cure is vital.

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She pointed out that the Greater Indiana chapter of the Alzheimer's Association recently gave its largest gift ever: $1 million to the Indiana University School of Medicine, for researchers to study the genetic underpinnings of the disease.

"We could be a little part of cracking the code," Murray said. "We're recruiting the best minds to come to your state."

Until that cure is discovered, Murray said, the organization will continue to support wraparound services for Alzheimer's patients and caregivers.

She noted that the busiest time for calls to the Alzheimer's Association hotline are between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., giving examples of what operators might hear: "My wife thinks it's time for the kids to the take bus. They're in their 40s." "My husband thinks it's time to go to work. " "My wife thinks someone's in the house."

Dawn Fultz, a financial advisor in Dyer with Edward Jones, said her clients often spend their whole lives savings for retirement, only to have that money wiped out by a battle with Alzheimer's.

"Sometimes as financial advisors we are the first to notice the decline," she noted, pointing to why she got involved in the cause: "I lost my grandma to this disease. ... I really lost her after two years. It physically took her at six."

"I can't wait to be part of the walk where we carry that white flower," which represents curing Alzheimer's, she added. "That means we beat this."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.