SIERRA VISTA — It was a sobering realization. Many of those in the health roundtable discussion Friday identified with the suffering of someone, friend or family, who had died of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the meeting hosted by Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation (AREDF), local representatives of numerous agencies and governments heard about the far–reaching effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the ever–growing problem of providing adequate care for those with mental health issues in Arizona.

James Fitzpatrick, the program and advocacy director of the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, provided an overview of dementia diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s.

Even though researchers, funded in part by the Alzheimer’s Association, are working across the country to determine how the body gives birth to the brain-wasting disease and how it can be treated, “There is no cure. There is no treatment for Alzheimer’s,” Fitzpatrick said. “But, we do envision a world without Alzheimer’s, just not in our lifetimes.”

It is easy for people to become fearful, particularly those 65 and over, when they begin to experience signs of age by forgetting things, like where one left car keys. However, simple forgetfulness is a common sign of aging, he continued. There is no need to be worried about the small stuff. The time to be concerned is when forgetfulness becomes a hindrance or a risk to normal day-to-day life.

He revealed some shocking statistics:

One in three seniors will die of Alzheimer’s disease in the state and Arizona has the fastest growth of Alzheimer’s.

It is the fastest growing cause of death in the state. Currently, there are around 140,000 people 65 and older in the state who have been diagnosed with the disease. By 2025, it is estimated 200,000 Arizonans will have the disease. Researchers are trying to get a handle on how the disease starts. Is it in genes? Yes, some people have a specific gene which can indicate a risk of dementia, but not all people who have the gene get the disease, he explained.

Is it lifestyle? Yes, a better diet, stopping smoking and getting more exercise could be helpful in staving off the disease. A lifestyle modification has the biggest effect in prolonging the onset of the disease.

More women than men develop Alzheimer’s, but women who work tend to have less of a chance of developing it.

African Americans are two-thirds as likely to suffer from it as Caucasians.

The disease also seems to afflict those with Down’s syndrome, a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Alzheimer’s will affect 97 percent of people with the disease, he said.

“We need to let our state legislators know how serious this is,” he added.

Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) Director Jami Snyder pointed out over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 16 million will have the disease by 2050. The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to total $277 billion in 2018, increasing to $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by mid-century.

AHCCCS is an active member of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Task Force, a multi-organizational team convened in 2010 to develop plans to support the growing population of adults in the state who experience Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, she said.

The task force developed a plan to take on the problem and started a program to maximize public awareness and understanding and develop new and enhance existing supports for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

The members want to expand dementia-capable workforce in the state and advance and disseminate research, Snyder said.

In 2015, the Arizona Alzheimer’s Task Force created “calls to action” to support stakeholders and make a difference in the lives of Arizonans experiencing Alzheimer’s and their families.

AHCCCS supports individuals experiencing Alzheimer’s and related dementia and their families through the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) oftentimes in their own home by providing in-home care services such as attendant care respite care. ALTCS also provides residential or skilled nursing institutional services should the need arise, she said.

Look for more coverage of the health forum in Tuesday’s Herald/Review.

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