Florence Snyder: Postcard from Alzheimer’s

“We take that very seriously” is quite possibly the biggest of the big lies they tell in Tallahassee.

There’s a ribbon and a 5K walk and a proclamation for everything, but precious little cash on the barrel head for families collapsing under the weight of caring for a loved one whose needs exceed the family’s resources.

The Florida Department of Taking Things Seriously is great with the flashy gesture. We saw that recently when they bathed the Old Capitol in purple light from dusk to dawn to show how seriously they take Alzheimer’s disease.

A half a million Floridians suffer from this cruel illness that robs its victims of their personhood and bankrupts their families financially and emotionally.

That number will go up. Way up. And as the baby boomers are rapidly learning, “hope I die before I get old” and “have children and pray that they like you” are not effective retirement plans for people who will be spending quite a few of their golden years unable to find their own way to the bathroom.

While the Legislature was “shedding light” on the Capitol, if not the actual problem, the Tallahassee Alzheimer’s Project and AARP’s “Films for Grown Ups” teamed up with the Tallahassee Film Society for a free screening of Still Alice at the All Saints Cinema.

Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her gut-wrenching portrayal of a beautiful and beloved wife, mother and brilliant Columbia University professor of linguistics who loses all of it to Alzheimer’s.

Moore’s fictional professor will be cared for at home by her youngest daughter, who gives up her own career to do it. When it’s no longer possible to manage at home, Moore’s fictional doctor husband has plenty of money for a “facility” that functions more like a Ritz-Carlton than like those places the Miami Herald wrote about in 2011, where Moore’s character would have an excellent chance of dying of bedsores long before the Alzheimer’s killed her.

The Palm Beach Post‘s John Kennedy gave some needed context to the purple lights story, reporting that this year, “Lawmakers are setting aside $1.7 million for services, which analysts say is enough to take 230 people off a wait list now crowded with 2,777 Alzheimer’s patients. That’s down from $4 million in state funding last year.”

It’s a spending plan that “… not only shorts Alzheimer’s funding, it also reduces community care for the elderly from $5 million last year to $2 million, providing enough only to extend care to 275 more people from a wait list topping 34,000 Floridians.”

In lieu of putting its old folks out on ice floes, Tallahassee turns to people like James Smith, LCSW, who serves as the Alzheimer’s Project’s clinical director.  He lingered long after the film was over to patiently answer questions he’s patiently answered a million times before.

All over Florida, there are wonderful young professionals like Smith. Armed only with glue, chewing gum, and grit, they make it possible for some lucky few families to bear the otherwise unbearable.

Imagine what they could do if the Legislature really did take the needs of Floridians with Alzheimer’s “very seriously.”

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.


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