Alzheimer's tsunami poised to hit Long Island

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An English professor struggles to write a sentence. An accountant cannot balance a checkbook. A mechanic does not understand how to use a fork. A mother no longer recognizes her children.

The face of Alzheimer's disease may vary. It is an affliction that knows no racial, social or intellectual boundaries, and each individual who suffers from it may display different symptoms and behaviors. But its conclusion remains the same and for those who watch their loved ones suffer from the disease, the journey is one of unending sacrifice, financial struggle and emotional pain.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's. It is a degenerative, fatal disease and the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Alzheimer's is most prevalent in those over the age of 85, but five to 10 percent of all cases occur in those under 65 in what is called early or young-onset Alzheimer's.

There are more than 35 million people worldwide with Alzheimer's and 5.3 million people in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association, with more than 55,000 cases on Long Island. But experts warn that those numbers may actually be double, as many individuals go through this disease without ever receiving an official diagnosis.

Most worrisome, experts said, are the decades ahead. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that the disease costs this country $148 billion annually. By 2050, as the baby boomer generation ages, the number of Alzheimer's patients is expected to surge to between 11 million and 16 million in the United States and to 115 million worldwide. When those who work in the field of dementia talk about the impact this will have on our health care system, one word is repeatedly used: tsunami.

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see the impact of early-onset Alzheimer's on one young LI family, the Henleys (photos may be extremely emotional)