Number of Alzheimer’s cases in Utah to dramatically increase

Kathryn Romney was a school teacher for 23 years, receiving the Teacher of the Year award from the Salt Lake City School District. In 2000, she and her husband, Leonard, were sent to supervise a mission in Russia for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and years later served again in Belgium. In 2009, Kathryn was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.Kathryn is one of 40,000 Utahns, or one in every eight Utah residents over the age of 65, who have some form of dementia. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, with the theme “Making Sense of Alzheimer’s.” The Alzheimer’s Association estimates Utah will lead the U.S. in number of people with the disease by 2025, predicting a 127 percent growth rate of the disease. Since 2000, Alzheimer’s in Utah has increased by 45 percent. “They say at age 85, 50 percent of us will start having some type of memory loss,” Deborah Crowther of the Bear River Association of Governments (BRAG) said. “Alzheimer’s is just one cause of memory loss under the umbrella of dementia.”BRAG has a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association and is a place full of information. The center welcomes caregivers, those suffering from Alzheimer’s and anyone who wants more information. BRAG also teaches nurses from nursing homes on how to deal with Alzheimer’s patients, and teaches community classes on how to keep the brain healthy. “With Alzheimer’s, education is power,” said Allison Richman, BRAG Alzheimer’s educator. Alzheimer’s is a type of memory loss that cannot be reversed, Richman said, because cells in the brain start to die off. Damage to brain cells can begin up to 20 years before symptoms show. Since the condition can’t be reversed, the best way to combat it is to be proactive and slow the process down. Thus, early diagnosis is important. The disease has many early symptoms, such as difficulty remembering names and recent events, impaired judgment, disorientation, apathy and depression, confusion and behavior changes. According to “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s,” as the first of 78 million baby boomers enter their mid-60s, “an Alzheimer’s tsunami is approaching” and will affect women more than it affects men. This is because women tend to live longer than men, and also because women tend to be the caregivers of loved ones. There are things community members can do now to ensure brain health and decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer’s later in life. Thirty minutes of exercise a day helps because it increases oxygen to the brain, and maintaining a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains gives the brain what it needs. Fish and olive oils are also healthy for the brain. Of families dealing with Alzheimer’s, about 75 percent choose to deal with their loved one at home. This can lead to increased stress and can create questions for the caregiver. BRAG can set caregivers up with support groups and other useful information in order for them to be able to handle this “unique caregiving job,” Richman said. More information on memory loss, maintaining a healthy brain and support groups can be found by contacting BRAG, 752-7242.- rachel@cvdaily.com

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