Alzheimer’s disease not only affects our kupuna, there are about 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 living with Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is a progressive and fatal disease that is devastating to not just the individual living with the disease but their caregivers as well.

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My connection to this disease is both professional and personal. I am a geriatric nurse practitioner but also a family caregiver to my father who is in the late stages of the disease. The signs of the disease became apparent before he was 65 years old.

As a family caregiver, I understand the enormous burden dementia has on Hawaii families and the economy. In Hawaii today there are 29,000 living with Alzheimer’s disease and 65,000 caregivers across the state.

This disease has brought challenges that I wasn’t prepared for, living this experience has taught me the true meaning of family, community, and kokua. But it is with hope that we can decrease those challenges and increase the quality of life for those living with the disease and those caring for their caregivers.

On my father’s 78th birthday, I attended U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s town hall at Washington Middle School, shared my story, and asked him to become a cosponsor of a bill that can help other caregivers.

Because of their young age, people living with Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s are not eligible for support and service programs available to older Americans. The Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act of 2019 (H.R. 1903 / S. 901) would help to fix this.

Sen. Brian Schatz, left, with Pokii Balaz and Ian Ross at Washington Middle School earlier this month.

Through the Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act of 2019, individuals under the age of 60 living with the disease would have access to support and services from programs under the Older Americans Act, including nutritional programs, respite services for family caregivers, supportive services, the National Family Caregiver Support program, and other services that enhance quality of life.

Sometimes members of Congress avoid straightforward answers to questions, however, Sen. Schatz spoke plainly and showed real leadership by offering to cosponsor this crucial legislation.

Please join me in thanking Sen. Schatz for becoming the first member of Congress from Hawaii to agree to cosponsor the Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act of 2019.

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About the Author

  • Pokii Balaz
    Pokii Balaz is a double board-certified family nurse practitioner who aims to serve kupuna, those with Alzheimer’s, other related dementias, caregivers and underserved populations such as Native Hawaiians. She currently resides at Kokua Kalihi Valley as a geriatric nurse practitioner and coordinator of the Grace Project.