Public involvement needed to help combat rising dementia cases

Published on Friday, 6 October 2017 14:01 - Written by JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS, jasimmons@tylerpaper.com      

Texas is expected to see an almost 40 percent increase in the number of Alzheimer’s cases within the next seven years, from 360,000 to roughly 490,000.

It’s already the sixth leading cause of death in the state and experts are eyeing the possibility the disease could be the next public health crisis.

However, people can take steps within their own families to take care of their health and reduce their chances of being a statistic, experts say.

“The reality is, concerning ourselves with our own brain health can possibly prevent or delay the onset of dementia,” said Stephanie Taylor, Alzheimer’s Alliance executive director.  “Tyler has become a retirement community … if we’re going to make a difference, people have to take care of their brain health.”

INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

There are ways society can respond to families affected by the disease.

“Every sector of the community can do things within their own organization to be dementia friendly,” Ms. Taylor said. “There are simple things we can do to help us embrace a coming catastrophe.”

Individually, people are encouraged to observe five pillars associated with maintaining a healthy brain: physical activity, nutrition, spirituality, socialization and cognitive development.

These areas can differ from person to person. For example, one person’s spirituality may mean bible study, whereas, to another it may mean simply quiet time or meditation.

Above all, it’s important to maintain regular medical checkups and follow a doctor’s advice on staying healthy.

HOW TO HELP

The Alzheimer’s Alliance serves as a type of clearinghouse for services, resources, support groups, counseling, respite opportunities and education to help families cope with the disease.

Public awareness is key - caregivers need to know these services exist, before they become overwhelmed.

“Ideally, they (caregivers) will contact us as early as possible,” Ms. Taylor said. “Caregiving can be a very lonely place to be, and almost everyone can use more help.”

The group works with caregivers to develop an understanding about different ways the disease can affect their loved ones.

About 95 percent of the Alliance’s annual $650,000 budget comes from private donations; the remaining 5 percent comes from two government grants.

The group generally operates with six full-time employees, who handle everything from education to home safety inspections.

It’s a daunting task, considering there are about 4,000 people in Smith County who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

To handle existing cases and the anticipated wave of new ones, the organization needs increased community interest and action - through giving, volunteers and conversation.

“There are a lot of ways people can help,” Ms. Taylor said.

There is a critical need to increase participation in Project Lifesaver, which puts patients in radio tracking bracelets, allowing law enforcement find missing people within a short period of time.

A typical search by law enforcement is about nine hours and costs about $1,500 per hour for manpower, amounting to about $13,500 per incident.

Bracelets are $300 each, and they could search times and possibly save lives. There is no monthly fee, but the devices need monthly battery changes.

Only about 25 people are active participants in the tracking service, even though thousands could be wearing the devices.

The organization receives no money for selling a bracelet, but needs donations to assist those who need and cannot afford to purchase their own.

To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Alliance and opportunities to help, call 903-509-8323 or visit   www.alzalliance.org .   

TWITTER @ TMT _ Jacque