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October 13, 2015 • Headline News
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Alzheimer’s: No cure for 6th leading cause of death
Sessions in Milan focus on dementia disease

Mary Mattingly

There are a lot of statistics you may have heard about Alzheimer’s Disease, such as:
• 5.3 million Americans are living with it
• One in 3 baby boomers will have Alzheimer’s

Within the next 10 years, 19 states will see a 40 percent or greater growth in the number of people who have the disease. But, this fact is the one that captures most people’s attention, according to Kristin Cooley, clinical social worker with the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati. “Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death, and the only one in the top 10 causes of death with no known cure.” Granted, that’s a statistic that stops you in your tracks: It cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed, and it is a leading cause of death. Eating blueberries and almonds or working crossword puzzles daily won’t prevent it, although the medical experts recommend a healthy Mediterranean diet for the brain, plus regular physical and mental exercise and social engagement, particularly at those diagnosed at early stages. That’s not to say scientists are not working on discoveries to help the millions destined to be afflicted with the disease. They are, but it takes a lot of dollars and unfortunately, time, both which are difficult to come by when Americans are diagnosed every 67 seconds with it.

With these numbers in mind, a dementia and Alzheimer’s workshop will be presented Oct. 17 and Oct. 24 at the Milan VFW, located at SR 101 and 350. The Alzheimer’s Association, Cincinnati chapter, which serves southeastern Indiana, including Ripley County, is presenting the two part workshop entitled “What Families Need to Know…When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s Disease or a Related Dementia.” There’s a reason it’s being held at the VFW; the chapter hopes to attract veterans or their caregivers. Beth Bross, a clinical social worker whose father, a veteran, was diagnosed with it at age 48 and died 10 years later, explained that many who have served our country in the military came home with brain injuries that may lead to dementia. She welcomes them or family members to attend.

This Saturday, clinical psychologist Dr. Kelly Napier will address the progression of the disease, and then Bross will talk about changes in communication and behavior. The following Saturday, Oct. 24, attorney Doug Denmure will advise of legal matters, such as power of attorney, a living will and Medicaid, all important things to know no matter the disease. Kristin Cooley will follow with a talk on family coping strategies and community resources. It’s all free, and open to the public, but reservations are requested the Friday before the event (Contact 1-800-272-3900 or email or visit the website at )

There is often confusion about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Cooley explains dementia is an umbrella term, much like cancer or the flu. However, Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease that falls under the dementia umbrella. They both have a set of symptoms, i.e. forgetfulness, losing track of dates, etc., but Alzheimer’s looks different on the brain, showing a plaque entanglement. As it progresses, it can cause the afflicted to forget to eat or drink, even how to swallow, and the organs can eventually shut down. Those type of things lead to death. Cooley noted though that it might not show up on a death certificate as a cause, as pneumonia or heart disease might have been the final culprit.
A main message the organizers want to share at the workshop is the increasing numbers affected by dementia and Alzheimer’s. “It continues to grow at a very alarming rate. Our role at the Alzheimer’s Association is one to continue of course to aid in the search for a cure, but also to provide help for those going through it,” Cooley said.

The reason for the rise in numbers could be attributed to better diagnosis, increased awareness, or the fact that we are living longer. Two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s, 3.2 million, are women. Women also tend to live longer than men. Genetics may also play into it, according to research. Interestingly or alarmingly, Beth Brosse noted that it’s not just senior citizens with dementia or Alzheimer’s. “We are seeing so many more diagnosed in their 50s, not in their 80s.” An Academy Award movie “Still Alice” from the best-selling book accurately portrays a 50-something college professor early onset Alzheimer’s, and undoubtedly increased awareness.

As for the warning signs, one of the most common, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information or forgetting important dates or events. These are memory changes that can disrupt your lifestyle. Another sign is challenges in planning or solving problems. As an example, some may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. What are typical age-related changes? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook. Less than half of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or their caregivers are aware of the diagnosis, compared with 90 percent of those with cancer or heart disease.

The chapter also wants those recently diagnosed or their caregivers to know that they understand the toll it takes. “It is hard to cope in so many ways,” Cooley said. The affected are embarrassed and frustrated they can’t follow conversations or recall what day it is. There’s still a stigma associated with Alzheimer’s, and many will say losing their mental capacities is one of their biggest fears in growing old. As the disease progresses, it can become increasingly difficult on the caregiver. “I think a lot of the caregivers or loved ones want to know if they are doing the right thing, to get reassurance. Is it okay I fibbed and didn’t tell her this or that or some other upsetting news,” Cooley said. They want validation in their care, and support. And, caregivers are often told to take time for themselves, but how to afford and find temporary or respite care can be a challenge.

“It takes an army! You need to get connected to resources, and let them know you’re not giving up. Ask us for help,” Cooley said. “It’s nice to talk to someone who gets it,” she said, but adds a support group may not be for everyone.

The Greater Cincinnati chapter provides a variety of services, without charge, including a slew of resources on programs. This too will be shared at the upcoming workshop.

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