updated 03/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Alzheimer's disease continues to cut a devastating swath of pain, loss and heartache through the lives and families of all who are affected by it (PEOPLE, Feb. 27). Most of our correspondents this week were or are caregivers of loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer's.

At an Alzheimer's support group tonight, someone asked if we had seen your magazine with Ronald Reagan on the cover. I bought one and immediately read it. As the daughter of an Alzheimer's victim, I was deeply moved by the celebrities' experiences. These people and I are worlds apart, yet their words could be mine. For those of us touched by this terrible disease, you have helped us realize we are not alone.
CAROLYN BRUNO, Follansbee, W. Va.

My heartfelt thanks to those who shared their painful experiences with this disease. My brother and I moved our mother into a totally secure residence, for her safety and our peace of mind. We have accepted the fact that she won't be "getting better," and the only thing we can do is remember the good times and feel confident that she is being well cared for. I learned something from each individual's story. Hopefully it will make our "long goodbye" a little easier to understand.
SHARON HALL, Kansas City, Mo.

Senator Rockefeller paid over $100,000 a year for live-in help and Tim Ryan over $50,000 a year to place his wife in a facility. Not to diminish their grief and loss, but I think the really courageous families would be those who bring home about $30,000 a year, yet have to provide quality care for a family member with Alzheimer's. As with any other illness, Alzheimer's does not use income as a criterion for picking its victims.
MARY E. JANSON, Cincinnati

All of our interviewees were acutely aware that the average family could not afford the care they were lucky enough to be able to provide. Due to space constraints, we were unable to use all of their comments to that effect.—ED.

My beautiful mother died in October 1994 after suffering for several years with Alzheimer's. She was only 71. It was a worst-case scenario for her and her devoted family, both emotionally and financially. We lost Mama too soon. We also lost our home, our possessions, our careers, our family life and many friends. Alzheimer's ruins and robs everyone touched by it, rich and famous, poor and anonymous alike.

Few people realize that Alzheimer's and dementia diagnoses do not qualify for Medicare; these two conditions are specifically denied coverage under the maximum 100-day window of post-hospitalization coverage. Then, try finding a Medicaid bed for an Alzheimer's patient if you want to sense total defeat and frustration. The average American who thinks there is some kind of safety net out there had better think again.

I would like to offer some words of encouragement to the victims of this terrible disease and their families. My husband was diagnosed in December 1993 at age 55. His doctor prescribed Cognex, which Bob has taken every day since. The doctor informed us that this new drug may only retard the progression of the disease; it has, however, actually restored much of my husband's memory. His confusion and disorientation have almost completely disappeared. Over a year after the diagnosis, Bob continues to function very well as an associate superintendent of schools. Cognex does not help all Alzheimer's patients, but I would recommend trying this treatment, since it is currently the only drug therapy available.
GALE SOLOMON, New Market, Ind.

I read with tears all of the experiences these courageous families were willing to share. It brought back painful memories of watching my father lose his determination, sense of humor and life to Alzheimer's. My sorrow at losing my dad is only equaled by my terror that I will not only inherit his wisdom and patience, but also this monstrous disease.

One of the people you named as having suffered from this terrible disease was David Niven. I would like to set the record straight that David suffered and died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis—Lou Gehrig's disease—not Alzheimer's. Even in his last year, when he had lost the power of speech, he was able to make me laugh through his pantomime. In no way was his mind or memory affected.

You indicated that Arlene Francis was deceased. Please check your records, as Ms. Francis is still alive. WILLIAM JOSEPH REYNOLDS, Ossining, N.Y. She is and is now living in California. We regret the error and also thank Mr. Wagner for setting the record straight about David Niven.—ED.

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