Last year, musician Glen Campbell and women's college basketball coach Pat Summitt both bravely came forward and shared with the world the news of their diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease and early onset dementia. They weren't the first celebrities to be diagnosed, former President Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer's disease, as did Charles Bronson, Norman Rockwell, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rita Hayworth, and many others, but, that is just a small number compared to the more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer's disease in America today, and sadly that number is growing rapidly.
Many times people will tell jokes about Alzheimer's, some call it part-timers, and we all laugh because no one really wants to think this could happen to them, or someone they love. No one wants Alzheimer's disease, but the frightening reality is that every 68 seconds someone is diagnosed with it, and for them it is no laughing matter. A diagnosis means one day they will no longer be able to care for themselves or for their loved ones, and it also means they may no longer know their loved ones. Those diagnosed will have more than just their memories taken from them, the devastating reality is that Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and rapidly climbing. Those diagnosed will either die from it or with it, there is no cure.
While many don't like to talk about the possibility of an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, there are many reasons to have the conversation early on. Just as Alzheimer's doesn't care if someone is famous, it isn't a disease only affecting only those over 85, many are being diagnosed in their 40s and 50s and a few have been diagnosed in their 30s. The time to talk about it is now. We're here to help.
The first step in diagnosis is knowing what memory changes are normal aging and what is Alzheimer's disease related. Information about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease is available on the Alzheimer's Association website www.alz.org or by calling our toll free helpline - (800) 272-3900.
It is important to note, those experiencing changes in memory or ability to carry out basic tasks that were a part of a normal routine previously should check with their doctor. Forgetting things may not always be Alzheimer's disease. There are many reasons for memory changes, many of which may be corrected by a physician after a thorough exam.
Some may wonder why they should bother getting a diagnosis for a disease that has no cure, or what to do if they have a diagnosis. By getting an early diagnosis the person affected is able to participate in the planning portion of their journey, they are able to put things into place legally, and share with their loved ones their wishes and expectations. They can also choose to participate in clinical studies, or they may have better results from the current medications used for disease. And while we don't currently have a cure for this disease there are things that can be done to help those diagnosed live a quality life with dignity for as long as possible. Early diagnosis is a good thing, not knowing doesn't change the diagnosis, it only robs the person and those who love them, from being able to work together to plan for the future.
Alzheimer's disease doesn't just affect the person diagnosed with the disease, it affects the entire family. In 2012, 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias - care valued at $216.4 billion, which is more than eight times the total sales of McDonald's in 2011. Eighty percent of care provided in the community is provided by unpaid caregivers. Family members who care for those with the disease may be required to miss work, receive phone calls while on the job, or may be tired from their duties as a caregiver outside of work. They may also become the sole breadwinner for the family when the person with the disease is no longer able to work. More than 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; more than one-third report symptoms of depression. Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers had $9.1 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2012.
The Alzheimer's Association provides free support and services for those diagnosed with the disease and for the caregivers, we also provide community programs, educational conferences, a 24/7 helpline, an award winning website, support groups, advocacy on a local, state and national level, and we are a world leader in providing funding as a nonprofit for research for a cure. It is the goal of the Fort Dodge office and all of the offices across the United States to let those affected know they are not alone. We are here and we have information and specialists available to help.
We can't do this alone, we need your help. We are always looking for volunteers to help with our events, to work in our office and to serve on our committees. We also need help to raise the much needed funds for a cure. Throughout the year we held smaller fundraisers in the Fort Dodge area and throughout the nation. Our largest event is our Walk to End Alzheimer's. This year's walk will be on Oct.12 at the Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center path. I have often described the walk as our largest support group. The walk is an excellent opportunity to join together with others who support the mission, whether they have Alzheimer's are caring for someone who has it, have lost a loved one to it or just support a world without Alzheimer's disease, together we can make a difference. All of the money raised at events like the walk allows us to continue to provide the free support and services and every dollar raised brings us one step closer to a much needed cure. You can sign your team up today at www.alz.org/walk.
For more information about Alzheimer's disease, Walk To End Alzheimer's, support groups, our upcoming educational conference on Aug. 22, volunteering, donating or other related questions, please call our helpline at (800) 272-3900 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Von Bank is a program and event coordinator with the Greater Iowa chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. The Fort Dodge office is at 822 Central Ave., Suite 310.