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Government changes on early Alzheimer’s

BY MORGAN OLSEN | FEBRUARY 17, 2010 7:30 AM

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When UI journalism lecturer Ann Haugland asked her class how many of them had relatives affected by Alzheimer’s last fall, she was surprised when nearly half the students raised their hands.

After Haugland’s own father died from Alzheimer’s, she became involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. Officials from the organization asked Haugland if they could test the Quest to Unravel Alzheimer’s Scavenger Hunt on the UI campus.

The event became a class project, and it soon spiraled into the formation of Hawkeyes Fighting Alzheimer’s, a new student organization that began this month.

“Many of us have been personally affected by the disease,” said UI senior and student director of the organization Elizabeth Timmins, whose grandmother died of Alzheimer’s. “It’s going to affect a lot of students’ parents and grandparents eventually.”

But until last week, the Social Security Administration placed limits on who could collect disability benefits based on age.

Then one Iowan wrote to the federal office last year to tell his story of losing his job and health after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 44.

He and other Iowans diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s received good news last week when the Social Security Administration announced those with early onset Alzheimer’s — when the disease begins before age 65 — will be eligible for quicker distribution of benefits.

Previously, they were subject to a long process of appeals and denials when applying for assistance through Social Security.

A national conference held last July in Chicago brought Iowans to the forefront of the battle.

“It was emotional and mentally exhausting,” said Kelly Hauer, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association East Central Iowa Chapter. “At the same time, it was empowering to know that we were part of making such a huge decision that would eventually benefit so many people.”

Johnson County is home to approximately 1,117 cases of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the East Central Iowa Alzheimer’s Association statistics.

The UI organization’s main focus right now is the Alzheimer’s Quest, Haugland said.

However, both Haugland and Timmins agreed the group will work on outreach advocacy issues in the near future. Students often bring up early onset Alzheimer’s when discussing their families.

“Here’s a group of students working with a national organization to battle Alzheimer’s,” Haugland said. “It’s important because students in this generation will be facing this issue head-on in the coming years.”


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