Alzheimer’s disease affects more than just mind

3-1-mooreBy Brittney Cannon
DEPUTY EDITOR
bcannon@cnjonline.com
When Julianne Moore mentioned Alzheimer’s during the Oscars last weekend, it brought the disease to the nation’s forefront. But for family members taking care of grandparents or parents with Alzheimer’s, they didn’t need reminding of its devastating impact.

“You’re afraid to leave them alone; it affects your life completely,” said Samantha Loudermill, executive director at Wheatfields Senior Living Community in Clovis. Her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s until she passed away in November 2014.

“My grandmother started out with dementia, and that was just the basic start of Alzheimer’s — forgetting what to eat at night or, you know, forgetting to pay bills,” Loudermill said. “Then it started progressing to bigger things like not putting her food in the refrigerator, and instead she would put it in her bedroom.”
According to Jamie Frye, communications and advocacy director for the Alzheimer’s Association of New Mexico, 60 percent of caregivers rate their emotional stress as very high, and about a third of them suffer from depression.

“Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease typically lasts longer than caring for someone with another chronic disease,” Frye said. “It tends to be more demanding emotionally and mentally.”
And Alzheimer’s diagnoses are on the rise. Frye said there are 34,000 individuals in New Mexico alone that suffer from Alzheimer’s, and 80 percent of them are being taken care of by family members in their own homes, rather than in an assisted living community.

“We tend to think of Alzheimer’s patients living in homes, but the vast majority of them are actually living in their community,” Frye said.
According to Loudermill, though, Wheatfields Senior Living Community receives Alzheimer’s patients “all the time,” and the community offers a 24-hour memory care unit, which includes three daily meals and snacks, 24-hour care staff, activities and specialty care.

Despite the availability of assisted living communities and the care they provide, Frye said there’s a “stigma” around Alzheimer’s disease.
“That’s a thing we struggle with in the United States,” Frye said. “There’s a stigma, as if it’s a mental illness — and I do not think there needs to be any stigma around mental illness either — but (Alzheimer’s) is a difficult thing to talk about.”

Loudermill agreed, especially since baby-boomers continue growing older.

“I hope that, you know, people get more involved,” she said. “We’re seeing it a lot more commonly now, and especially in the future I think it’s going to be a bigger disease.”

“If we do not find a cure or even a way to delay the onset, by 2050 it’s going to be a projected 16 million (victims),” Frye said.

According to Frye, there is a lot of “cutting-edge” research out there for Alzheimer’s — the only problem is finding the funding for it.

The National Institute of Health funds research efforts all over the country, Frye said, for other illnesses including cancer, HIV and AIDS. However, cancer research received $5.4 billion from NIH in 2014, and Alzheimer’s research received $566 million in comparison.

“Cancer, HIV and AIDS get billions, and as a result they’ve received a lot less diagnoses over the years. They’re finding new stuff every day,” Frye said. “The flipside of that is Alzheimer’s disease is very expensive. We spend a lot of money caring for people with Alzheimer’s.”

Frye said one in five medical dollars is spent caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, and there are 5 million diagnosed with it in the United States.

However, there is a bright side. There are several resources available online and in the community for families living with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“Just to get help when you need it,” Loudermill said. “There’s support groups out there, and they have great advice for families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“That help is out there,” Loudermill said. “Really look for help. And if it’s even just to talk to somebody, there are people out there that you can find to talk to about it. It will relieve that pressure.”

Frye said the first thing families should do when seeing possible early warning signs of Alzheimer’s is to go to a doctor immediately and get diagnosed.

“There are a small number of dementias that are reversible, but this is not one of them,” Frye said. “There is no cure. Some (dementias) can be halted or reversed.”

Frye said the Alzheimer’s Association in New Mexico offers free services for families, have support groups and care consultations to help with the planning process when a loved one is diagnosed.

“It can be very stressful going through this process, and a lot of families planning find it easier,” Frye said.

For information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, or to learn more about it, visit www.alz.org/newmexico
You can also call the 24-hour help line at 1-800-272-3900.