Dear Family and Friends,
As involved as I am in the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana, I hear a lot of statistics about the disease. Did you know that there were 80,000 Kentuckians with Alzheimer’s in 2011, and that more than 264,000 family members and friends provided these persons with more than 300,000 hours of unpaid care?
But here’s where it gets personal. So far this spring, I have attended two community events to recruit teams for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Louisville on Sept. 8 and, without fail, every single person we talk to at these events has been affected in some way by Alzheimer’s disease. For some, it was a grandmother or grandfather who had died, or was currently struggling with the disease. Several people had lost their husband or wife. For others, it was a friend, some close, some more distant. One gentleman at a Farmer’s Market last Saturday first answered “no” when I asked him if he knew someone who was affected…but then he backpedalled and said, “Oh yes, yes I do,” as his face took on a sadness in stark contrast to the sunny morning in St. Matthews.
That same Saturday, a woman about my age and I shared stories about our mothers-in-law. And we both lamented that Alzheimer’s is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States for which there is no cure. How can that be the case, so many years after the disease was identified? Yet, to date, there is not even a treatment to stop the progression of the disease as it creeps through the brain, destroying both cherished memories and practical knowledge. There are treatments for symptoms, but nothing to stop it or cure it.
One woman did pull me aside and say that all disease, including Alzheimer’s, was the victims’ own fault for not taking care of themselves. She proudly stated that she was 76 years old and was in perfect health, thanks to her lifestyle choices.
I suppose nothing will change that woman’s mind, but I would like to have seen the conversation between her and my mother-in-law before Mom was diagnosed. Mom may have been subtle and even proper in sharing her points of view, but she would never have let that woman walk away without setting her straight. I might have argued more vehemently with the woman, had I not been so shocked, and then saddened by her mindset.
Mom has had high cholesterol throughout all the years I’ve known her. She was born with the propensity for it, and until she started losing her memory and ability to take care of herself, she took every precaution advised by her doctor. She took her medication religiously. She rarely ate an egg, and she watched her weight and exercised. I don’t remember her ever being sick, in fact. She was one of the healthiest persons I had ever known. Yet she counted that as a blessing, rather than something she’d earned.
Yes, diet and lifestyle may reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. But, if everywhere you look and everyone you meet has been touched by the disease in some way, we begin to understand that we have to do more to stop it. We have to find a cure.
For me, like so many of you, Alzheimer’s is personal. My husband’s grandmother suffered dementia, although we don’t know if it was Alzheimer’s. And now his mother is in the final stages. I don’t want him to suffer the indignity and loss that always comes with this disease. And I don’t want our children to suffer that either.
I suspect Alzheimer’s is personal for you as well. Let’s do something about it. Let’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Sept. 8.