The Alzheimer's Association commissioned a Gallup poll that found 1 in 10 Americans had a family member with Alzheimer's and 1 in 3 knew someone with the disease. Recent figures calculate 4.5 million Americans with the disease. That number is expected to surge between 11.3 million and 16 million by 2050.
Although there is no known cure for the disease, there are treatments available for symptoms and scientists are starting to identify some characteristics associated with the illness. Age is currently recognized as the greatest risk for developing Alzheimer's. "Ten percent of people over the age of 65 have dementia," said Danita Vetter, vice president of programs and education for the Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley chapter. "It doubles every five years. "By the time you get to 85, 48 percent of people have dementia," she said, adding that by that age, "You have about a 50/50 chance of developing dementia. It's very ominous." And, that population continues to grow in numbers. "That is the fastest growing segment," Vetter said.
Family history may also play a part into susceptibility of experiencing the progressive memory-loss disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, those who have parents or siblings with the disease have an increased chance of having it later in life.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Vetter explained that the plaques that form in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient have similarities to those formations of a heart disease victim. "Those plaques are not that different from those plaques that develop in the arteries of the heart," she said. A glimmer of hope with that is most people can keep their cholesterol in check, Vetter explained.
Another population that has a higher risk of getting Alzheimer's disease is the African American and Latino communities. "A lot of the foods enjoyed traditionally create obesity and heart disease," Vetter said of these populations.
One thing that concerns advocates is the growing elderly population and the costs that are associated with caring for them. By 2006, the Baby Boomers will be reaching retirement age and, therefore, will start accessing the eligible services. Agencies such as the Alzheimer's Association and the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging (COSA) are preparing themselves to have resources available despite the dwindling sources of revenue.
According to the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging, indirect and direct costs of caring are at least $100 billion now. More than 70 percent of those in nursing homes have dementia, according to Vetter. Those figures will continue to expand as more people enter the service arena. "I think the challenges that face society are tremendous," Louis Colbert, COSA director, said. "I think the great thing about Delaware County is we are small enough to address them."
As people live longer and communities become more diverse, social service agencies must adapt to meet these needs, he said. "The reality of it is everybody has limited dollars," Colbert said. "How do we do more with limited dollars? I think our office is up to it." Town meeting planned The Delaware County Daily and Sunday Times, in conjunction with Crozer Keystone Health Systems and the Alzheimer's Association, is sponsoring a town hall meeting on this dreaded disease 7 p.m. Thursday, April 1, at the Drexelbrook Catering and Banquet Facility in Drexel Hill, Upper Darby. An hour-long health fair will precede the seminar at 6 p.m.
Readers interested in attending this important meeting may register by filling out the coupon that has been appearing in the paper, or by clicking on the "Town Meeting" story on the Community News section of this Web site. ©The Daily Times 2004