Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
She had researched Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on the brain for years, but it wasn’t until her own mother’s memory began to slip that Dr. Eva Feldman, a University of Michigan neurologist, truly grasped how devastating the disease is.
Margherita Feldman was 88 when she moved in June 2017 to the memory care unit of an assisted living home in Saline. And although her memory loss wasn’t as acute as some of the other residents, it’s when the cruelty of the disease — now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States — and the scope of the America’s Alzheimer’s crisis became clear to her daughter.
“I learned more about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease spending lots of hours in that memory care unit than I did as a long-standing, practicing neurologist,” said Dr. Feldman, who is the director of the University of Michigan’s Program for Neurology Research & Discovery. “The people in the memory care unit, some were very violent. Some were very passive. Some were very young with really severe memory loss with early-onset Alzheimer’s. You could see the whole myriad of presentations and you could understand what an enormously difficult disease that it is for the patient, but also for the families.”
In her work, but also while visiting with her mom, Dr. Feldman considered the enormity of the Alzheimer’s problem: About 5.8 million Americans now have the disease, according to the the Alzheimer’s Association. That number will climb to at least 13.8 million by 2050, a 138% rise, and as many as 1 in 3 people who live to be 85 in the United States will die with Alzheimer’s disease.