Strides being made against Alzheimer’s disease

Today, families are honoring their mothers with gifts, gatherings and a show of appreciation. At the same time, the Alzheimer’s Association is recognizing women as “the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s crisis.”

Figures gathered recently by the Alzheimer’s Association state women in their 60s are nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as they are to develop breast cancer. And nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients of all ages are women.

Because nursing facility care is expensive, most Alzheimer’s patients remain at home with care from spouses and family members, often for years, until the disease progresses to an unmanageable level. The emotional and physical stress of caregiving has negative health effects on the those giving the care and on the rest of the family.

About 60 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women.

These statistics do not paint a rosy picture for the aging population or for taxpayers in general. Based on figures from recent years, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates the cost of the disease at $214 billion for 2014, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.

Faced with these trends, the Alzheimer’s Association is working to help struggling families and to fund research for better treatment of the disease. The Tiffin Walk to End Alzheimer’s is set for Oct. 4 at Tiffin University’s Heminger Center. Although it is months away, the 18-member local planning committee already is at work lining up teams and sponsors.

The committee for 2014 includes Brianne Richardson, Carol McDannell, Dave Shelton, Jan Shelton, Jessica Rogier, Jim Skidmore, Kellie Hartsel, Linda DeVaughn, Lolita Chapman, Lorie Richardson, Maria Browne, Mary Falin, Missy Gurney, Merre Phillips, Mikki King, Pat McConnell, Becky Shank and Terri Smith.

The annual Celebration and Walk Kickoff was May 2 at St. Francis Home to recognize the top teams for 2013 and generate enthusiasm for this year’s event. In addition to committee members and award recipients, Nick Vargas, development and communication director, and Marty Williman, education coordinator, were present from the Alzheimer’s Association, Northwest Ohio Chapter.

Vargas asked the 26 people at the table to introduce themselves and why they want to participate.

“I’m a physical therapist’s assistant, so I see it every day, plus my grandmother has it. Last year, my family and I learned about the walk, and we came and did it last year. As far as my family goes, it was a really good thing. I got a lot of support from them, and they got to come and experience and learn things they didn’t know,” said Micki Criswell.

Diane Phillips said her mother has Alzheimer’s and resides at St. Francis, and Linda DeVaughn said she lost her mother to Alzheimer’s in November. Lolita Chapman of Community Hospice Care and PT Services/Optima said she got involved because her father died about 30 years ago “before we really understood what Alzheimer’s is all about.”

Vicki Charlton, representing Wyandot County Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center, had come to learn what her facility would need to do to form a team. Dawn Smith of the Sandusky County Board of Developmental Disabilities said 2014 will be the fourth year for her agency to have a team. It is to include a few of their students with Alzheimer’s. In 2013, Renee Hohman led the Sandusky County Board of Developmental Disabilities team to a first-place finish.

Williman reviewed the services the Alzheimer’s Association offers, including support groups, a 24/7 helpline, consultations for diagnosed individuals and their families and caregivers, financial assistance for caregiver respite, and educational programs and literature.

She said ideas for new programs are always welcome as needs arise. Because Alzheimer’s is a spectrum disease, it presents different symptoms in each case.

“Dementia is not a normal part of aging,” Williman said.

She added more than 80 types of dementia have been identified, but 70 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It is characterized by a build-up of thick material that blocks the brain’s normal functions.

This progressive brain disorder gradually destroys memory and the ability to learn, reason, communicate and manage basic activities.

Statistics from 2010 show Alzheimer’s disease was listed as the cause of death on 83,494 Americans’ death certificates, making it the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. In Ohio, 210,000 people have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. In northwest Ohio, about 38,000 individuals are living with Alzheimer’s, including 1,300 in Seneca County.

Although progress is being made in Alzheimer’s research, no cure is available yet. Drugs that are being tested go through four stages before the Food and Drug Administration approves them for use.

Williman displayed a chart showing 12 medications in stage 3 clinical trials and about 20 in stage 2.

“So there’s a lot of good work going on, and we’re getting closer to developing new drugs for better treatment. The next line of drugs they really hope will break up the plaque … that occurs in the nerve cells in the brain when a person has dementia. They call (the drugs) ‘plaque-busters,’ just like we have the plaque busters for a heart attack, to break up that plaque,” Williman said. “There’s a lot of great studies in the works, but we just don’t have the dollars to push them forward.”

Lack of funding for Alzheimer’s research has been a problem. Williman and a group people from northwest Ohio went to Columbus in April to meet with Ohio legislators for Memory Day. The effort was a plea for more state-level programs to support people with dementia.

Nationally, the U.S. is spending about $.5 million per year on Alzheimer’s research. In contrast, about $5 billion per year is being invested to study cancer, another $5 billion for heart disease, and about $3 billion for AIDS.

“Notice the ‘m’ for Alzheimer’s and the ‘b’ for the others. We don’t want to take money away from those other diseases … It just points to the fact that if you invest in that research, you get better outcomes,” Williman said.

Death rates have been going down for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Williman said people are living longer, only to be stricken with dementia. One out of three senior citizens dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Before presenting awards, Vargas said the northwest Ohio chapter covers a 24-county area in Ohio and sponsors 10 walks each fall. In 2013, the 10 walks brought in $470,000. With honorary co-chairs Jan and Dave Shelton, the Tiffin walk had 279 walkers in 35 teams that generated $24,248. Corporate sponsors contributed $10,850.

The Shelton team placed first, followed by Team Kortlandt. Vargas said the Kortlandts have made the walk a family project that has taken them to multiple walks all over the country. Bill Sturgeon of Upper Sandusky and his daughter, Lesley Hayman, led the third-place family team for 2013.

“Unfortunately, we got involved in it because my dad has Alzheimer’s. We heard about the walk last year and got a team together, Fishes for Memories. … We appreciate what you’ve done and all the work you put into this, the research and the effort. We want to support you. That’s why we’re here,” Sturgeon said.

Hayman said raising money has never been a simple task. At first, she planned to make a family donation and not ask anyone else to help. As a pipe organist at her church, she considered putting a tip basket on the organ, but another idea emerged.

“It grew into a concert, and right before the concert, I remember Dad asking me, ‘How much are you hoping to make?’ I had no idea, so I said $200. Nine hundred dollars later, the concert was over. We did other little things here and there.”

Hayman said she plans to do another organ concert this year. Sturgeon said he and his daughter thought the walk was a perfect way to get involved in the Alzheimer’s cause. His dad, 88, recently had to be placed in a nursing facility after staying at home for a few years, in the care of his wife and other family members “on call.”

Although his father can still communicate, Sturgeon said his memory is suffering.

“It’s hard to see him struggle like he does,” Sturgeon said. “Everyone at the walk was friendly and supportive. We felt right at home.”

The top corporate teams for 2013 were the Sandusky County Board of Developmental Disabilities, St. Francis Senior Ministries and Team Westbrook. Brittiny Leeth, activities director at Westbrook Assisted Living in Upper Sandusky, attended with another staff member, Karen Bateman. They said their team planned several events to raise funds for the walk. One of them was a 5K color run in Upper Sandusky that attracted 318 runners. They also had a candle sale and a community fundraiser at Bob Evans.

To conclude the kick-off, Vargas took team registrations and reminded the group they also can sign up online. Teams can plan events over the next few months to build their totals. The planning committee also welcomes new members, he said.

To learn more about sponsoring, signing up a team, or making a donation, visit www.alz.org/nwohio or contact Nick Vargas at nvargas@alz.org or (800) 272-3900.