November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, and 16 million friends and family members are caring for them.
More than 90,000 people with Alzheimer’s reside within the 125 counties served by the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Services provided by the chapter include training for professional caregivers, free support groups, and plenty of available resources for patients and caregivers alike to learn and exchange coping skills.
In fiscal year 2018, the regional chapter raised $1.4 million through 9,000 participants in 12 “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” events. The chapter’s education team offered 800 programs and monthly support groups, including the Memory Café. The organization engaged 15,000 local advocates, many of whom also worked on the national level to help increase federal funding of Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health.
"Our current reach into this vulnerable population in Kentucky is very limited,” said Bari Lewis, director of community outreach for the regional chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “That means here in Louisville, and all across the state, we must broaden that reach by asking those who have a passion for the cause to join us as volunteer members.”
Volunteers are appreciated in all areas of the nonprofit group, from office help and fundraising efforts to becoming leaders of support groups and educational programs.
“We cannot win this fight alone. We need you,” Lewis said. While there is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, “we do seem to understand more every day how lifestyle choices can stave off cognitive decline and sometimes delay the triggers that lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s,” she said. “The best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to take care of yourself intellectually, physically and nutritionally.”
How do you know if your loved one is developing dementia? Short-term memory loss is a telltale sign. It’s a different type of forgetfulness than people normally experience due to stress or overwhelming feelings, though, because it affects activities of daily living. It might feel as if your loved one “isn’t there anymore.” This is a common phrase heard in caregiver circles.
“People with Alzheimer’s dementia are still individuals with ‘self’ intact, even if that self seems changed or even nonexistent,” Lewis said. “While they may not connect with us the way we have known them, or even at all, they are still living a life of value with feeling and awareness of all that is going on around them. We must act to honor that daily.”
As with any other condition, early detection of Alzheimer’s is key. The sooner someone can be diagnosed with dementia and on a course of medication and other treatment aspects, the better.
The University of Louisville Trager Institute conducts research and provides services for the aging population. Within the institute is the Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic, which focuses on six areas of health necessary for a person to flourish: biological, environmental, individual health behaviors, psychological, social and having access to health services.
“Our goal here is integrated care for the benefit of aging well in the community,” said Anna Faul, Ph.D., executive director of the Trager Institute. She cites nutrition, exercise, acupuncture and massage therapy among the services available at the center, along with a caregiver support program. The center is working on educating the public and private sectors in order to develop dementia-friendly communities, businesses and hospital emergency departments.
Dr. Faul says even people who have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease can delay the onset of the disease with healthy lifestyle. “They’re starting to call it type 3 diabetes,” she said, “because there is such an excess of glucose in your body, causing inflammation that triggers the forming of plaque in your brain.”
UofL students are participating in research at the Trager Institute. Look for a Cloud-based task reminder system to be on the market next year, thanks to engineering students.
Research is coming out all the time showing a link between physical activity and brain health. “I would encourage everybody to do more than exercise twice a week,” said Susan Schonberger, group exercise director at Baptist Health Milestone Wellness Center. She has been with the business since it opened in 1984 as Milestone Fitness Center. By 2000, Baptist Hospital Louisville was a partner and there was a new name and new location, a mile east of the hospital.
Milestone has three swimming pools, five classrooms, fitness equipment galore, a café, and a spa for massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. The membership facility offers 100 classes in the pools and another 200 land classes, including dance, indoor cycling, kickboxing, Pilates, strength training, stretching, TRX, yoga, intense workouts and low-impact exercise.
Schonberger works a lot with seniors. Once defined as age 55 and older, 65 is the new standard. Milestone Wellness Center has group classes tailored for seniors to improve flexibility, posture and overall wellness, like tai chi, beginning yoga, and an aquatic class to help those with arthritis and fibromyalgia.
“There’s a social aspect also,” Schonberger said. Members often play solitaire and work on crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles together. “Anything that requires physical and thinking at the same time is supposed to help your brain,” she said.