Widow continues the effort to help fund Alzheimer's research

By Patti Borda Mullins-post, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 23, 2015 at 7:51 a.m.



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FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — This session of Congress could bring some peace to Kathy Siggins, who wants to see an end to the kind of frantic uncertainty that Alzheimer's disease generates.

Since her husband's death from Alzheimer's in 1999, Siggins has tried to get federal authorization for a postage stamp that raises money for Alzheimer's research. A package of bills in Congress now may get that done.

When Siggins' husband disappeared briefly one night from their Mount Airy home, she dealt with a fright that haunts families of people with Alzheimer's disease. Her husband was found safe 90 minutes later, asleep on a floor, and emergency responders told her not to feel embarrassed about calling.

She learned that people with dementia wander and often end up in grave danger.

"I didn't realize that most of the time you do not find them alive," she said.

That scenario and the daily intensive assistance that anyone with Alzheimer's requires continue to drive Siggins to call for research into the irreversible dementia. Siggins shares the Alzheimer's Association's view that the country is not addressing how devastating the disease will be on families, productivity and the health care system for years to come.

One in eight baby boomers will be affected by the disease, said Cathy Hanson, program coordinator for the association's Western Maryland chapter. In Frederick County, the number of diagnosed cases is 4,000.

Some patients go undiagnosed for years, while symptoms may hinder their professional and personal lives.

Siggins said her husband was diagnosed in 1990, when he was 62, but he had signs of the disease years earlier.

In 2008, she advocated successfully for the postal service to issue an Alzheimer's awareness stamp, but that did not route any funds to research. In contrast, the breast cancer semipostal stamp that has been out since 1998 has raised $80 million for research into that disease.

Customers pay the same price for postage with a semipostal stamp, but a percentage of the money goes to the cause.

Last month, Congress began considering another opportunity to authorize an Alzheimer's semipostal stamp as part of a package of bills collectively labeled Alzheimer's Action Now. Those four bills introduced by Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer's Disease, has many co-sponsors, including Maryland U.S. Reps. John Delaney, D-6th, and Chris Van Hollen, D-8th.

The bills are intended to help Alzheimer's patients and their families get assistance with patient care, promote public awareness of the disease and encourage voluntary contributions to research efforts. The last piece incorporates Siggins' latest stamp proposal.

"I still want the one that raises money," she said. "We need to get the entire community on board."

"We are so proud of Kathy and her efforts with the semipostal stamp," Hanson said. "She's been a staunch advocate."

Siggins and Hanson are optimistic that the country is taking the disease more seriously. Hanson was thrilled that Congress is considering a budget that would increase the federal funding for Alzheimer's research from $500 million to $850 million.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and an estimated 5.1 million of those are 65 and older. Their care comes at a heavy financial, physical and emotional cost for those who must provide round-the-clock supervision for possibly a decade, Siggins and Hanson said.

"This is a major life-killer, and we don't have any effective treatment," Hanson said.

She and Siggins see the stamp as an easy way for people to remember the need to find answers and to voluntarily help the cause. They encourage the public to urge Congress to support Alzheimer's Action Now.

"We need to raise that additional money," Siggins said. "It's an investment for all of us."

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Patti Borda Mullins-Post

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