Alzheimer's is a particularly cruel disease, both for the people who suffer from it and for their loved ones. It slowly steals away a patient's memory and personality, until its victims can see the people closest to them, their friends and family, as strangers.
That puts a special burden on the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. The number of Alzheimer's patients in New Jersey is expected to increase from 150,000 in 2010 to 170,000 by 2025. If you include caregivers, advocates say, the state residents affected by the disease number more than half a million.
About 80 percent of new Alzheimer's patients are older than 85. That means their spouses, usually their primary caregivers, are also older. And their children may be facing health problems of their own.
So it's good news that Gov. Chris Christie this week appointed nine members to the state's new Alzheimer's Disease Study Commission, which was created by legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland, two years ago.
Along with members from advocacy groups, care facilities and clergy, the council will include two members representing families of Alzheimer's patients.
The commission is charged with studying the current and future impact of Alzheimer's in the state and with recommending ways to improve the care of patients, including those with early onset Alzheimer's. It can help determine the state's role in helping families affected by the disease and help coordinate efforts.
And it could, for instance, develop guidelines and education programs for police and emergency responders in how to deal with Alzheimer's patients, not always an easy task.
One member of the commission, Lawrence B. Brooks, executive director of the Greater New Jersey Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, told NJSpotlight.com, "I think what's critical is that we position the state to be able to respond to the wave that we know is coming as the baby boomers are aging."
The commission won't be making medical breakthroughs, of course. It won't take the place of the researchers who are trying to find causes and cures for Alzheimer's. Nor can it replace the dedicated people - families and professionals - who care for patients every day.
But there is much that it can do to help ensure New Jersey is more ready to handle a health crisis that is easy to predict, even if it is still difficult to prevent.