I have had the privilege of working the past nine months for the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod as a social work intern from Boston University. Over these past nine months many people have asked about my experience of working with those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. They are surprised when I tell them it has been an inspiring experience. I have had the opportunity to see the strength of spirit of those facing this overwhelming disease and their ability to find joy in each day. I have observed the deep love and dedication the caregivers have for their loved ones and how they handle the daily challenge of caring for someone with a neurodegenerative disorder with a spirit of grace and hope.

Words like grace, hope, joy, and inspiration don’t come to mind when we think of Alzheimer’s disease. Words like anxiety, fear, and hopelessness are what come to our attention instead when we think of dementia and its effect on individuals and families. There is a great deal of anxiety around diseases that impact our memory because all of us experience at times the frustration of forgetting where we put our car keys. We wonder whether this forgetful act is a sign of a serious memory disorder or just an age-related change in memory.

A Marist Institute poll found that Americans fear developing Alzheimer’s disease more than cancer, stroke, heart disease and any other life-threatening illness. Forty-four percent of all respondents said they feared Alzheimer’s disease more than any other disease.

Disorders like Alzheimer’s disease also remind us of the fear of getting older, and the most significant factor in who gets Alzheimer’s disease is age. It is predicted that by 2050, 20 percent of the population will be over the age of 65 and those 85 and older will increase by 350 percent. Presently, one third of people over the age of 85 are diagnosed with AD. Today, on Cape Cod alone there are 10,000 families, individuals, and caregivers living with Alzheimer's and other dementia-related illnesses.

However, there are hopeful signs found in one of the most unexpected places, in our state and federal legislatures. Congress has included a $414 million increase for Alzheimer’s and dementia research in its spending plan for the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2018. On Jan. 31 the Massachusetts Alzheimer's and Dementia Act, H.4116, passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives, yet still hasn’t been passed by the State Senate. This bill would fund a state plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease and make sure state resources are used in the most effective way to help individuals and their caregivers dealing with this disease. I ask you to consider writing your state senator and ask that they support H.4116.

One of my favorite actors is David Hyde Pierce who played Niles on the long running television comedy "Frasier." Pierce has spent years advocating for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. He told MSNBC, “It’s up to us, to all of us, to the American people and to their representatives about whether we face the challenges (of Alzheimer’s) and make all the effort necessary or if we ignore it and just let this sort of tidal wave crash over us." Please contact your state senator today and ask them to vote for H.4116 so tens of thousands of Massachusetts families facing Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases can be helped.

The Rev. Eric Stroshine is a social work intern at the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Hanover.