It has been my honor to dedicate my life and my energy to a community that I love. Public service, whether as an educator or an elected official, has been at the core of who I am for as long as I can remember. It is that commitment to public service that has led me to write this, and to share a diagnosis that my pride would rather keep private. It is my hope that by writing this, it will raise awareness and aid in the call for greater investment in medical research.
Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of degenerative brain disease, or dementia, with another American being diagnosed every 65 seconds. Dementia is not a specific disease; it is a term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills impacting one’s ability to perform everyday tasks.
No two cases are ever exactly alike, but experts have identified common warning signs, including: short-term memory loss, confusion about time and place, struggling to complete familiar tasks, lack of inhibition, socially inappropriate behavior, difficulties in judging situations, and changes in mood and personality.
As many of you know, this horrible affliction known as dementia has been no stranger to my family. A form of it has taken both of my parents and my brother. In many ways, it took them twice — first their spirit, and then their physical presence. Over the past year, my family and I have come to the realization that a form of this affliction has now turned its gaze to me.
While I recognized some of the early warning signs, like many Americans I was reluctant to believe that this was happening. Even as someone who knew better, as someone who experienced family members going through this, it was easy for me to write these warning signs off as simply part of aging or being tired after a long career. But, this should not be a normal part of aging. We all need to engage our doctors and loved one’s when we see these early warning signs develop into more than a rare occurrence.
Today, $200 billion a year in Medicare and Medicaid spending is spent on people with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, when Alzheimer’s dementia is expected to affect nearly 14 million Americans over the age of 65, the costs to Medicare and Medicaid will skyrocket to more than $750 billion.
Studies suggest that research leading to early and accurate diagnoses could save up to $7.9 trillion in medical and care costs. Despite this, for every dollar the federal government spends today on the costs of Alzheimer’s care, it invests less than a penny in research to find a cure. We simply must do better.
My greatest honor over the past 40 years has been the trust that the citizens of my hometown of Havre de Grace, Harford County and the state of Maryland placed in me when they elected me to serve and lead them. While my days ahead may not be filled with acts of public office and leadership, they will still be focused on giving back to my community. With the support of my family and friends, I intend to remain active, volunteering where needed.
I will continue living in Havre De Grace with the love of my life, Melinda, surrounded by family, and friends and neighbors who are just as dear. You will continue to see me around town, walking to restaurants and enjoying festivals. I will still cherish living in a town where people stop, say hello and catch up. I am one of the lucky ones; I am catching this early; I still have happy days ahead.
As I share this with you, I can’t help but reflect on the words of the great late President Ronald Reagan, who was brave enough to also share his affliction:
I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.
May god bless you all and the great nation and state I so dearly love.
David R. Craig is former Maryland Secretary of Planning, Harford County Executive, Maryland state legislator and mayor of Havre de Grace. He can be reached through his daughter Pamela Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.