D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     August 2005



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Attacking Alzheimer's

What you don't know about Alzheimer's can hurt you. The good news is that scientists are making strides towards a world without Alzheimer's.

By Randy Cahall
Alzheimer's Association Las Cruces Chapter

 

Surveys show the public understands little about Alzheimer's disease. Surveys conducted by the Alzheimer's Association have revealed the following:

  • 19 percent of respondents felt prepared to handle the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in a family member.
  • Just 12 percent reported knowing what causes Alzheimer's.
  • Fewer than half, 44 percent, knew that there are treatments available that can slow down progress of this disease, which slowly and severely erodes intellectual functions.

Results of such recent surveys raise concerns at the Alzheimer's Association, particularly because of the nation's 77 million Baby Boomers who by 2030 will be over 65 and at higher risk of developing the disease. The number of Americans with Alzheimer's is projected to increase by 70 percent by 2030, affecting about 7.7 million people.

Many people simply aren't familiar with the disease. They are not aware of the stages of Alzheimer's and what happens in those stages. Resulting behavioral changes can be misconstrued or cause confusion if someone exhibits a behavior that is foreign to them.

When compared to adults older than 58, Baby Boomers were less likely to be personally concerned about Alzheimer's, to know someone with Alzheimer's, to think scientists are making advances on the disease and to feel prepared to handle a diagnosis.

In the past 15 years scientists have made significant advances in Alzheimer's research; however, only 29 percent of those surveyed knew anything about this progress.

The two "hallmarks" of the disease, protein plaque and tangle in neurons, have been found in the autopsied brains of Alzheimer's victims. Until recently, there was no easy way to track possible drug therapies, but what is considered a major breakthrough in research has recently been developed. Researchers have developed what is called the "Pittsburgh Compound" that crosses the blood-brain barrier and attaches itself to the plaque in the brains of live patients. Now the hope is that as new drug therapies are developed, doctors will actually be able to go in and see if it's working without having to do an autopsy, greatly increasing the chances of finding drug therapies to slow or actually stop the progression of the disease.

There are several drugs now available that slow the process of the disease, including Memantine (Namenda), which was introduced in the United States in 2003, and is now available. Today it is not a question of whether the disease can be prevented but rather when the Alzheimer's Association's vision for a world without Alzheimer's will be achieved. But surveys find that only 24 percent of respondents believed a cure will be found in their lifetime.


In an effort to change American's thinking on Alzheimer's, the association plans an advertising campaign to educate Americans about the disease. A redesigned Web site at www.alz.org will help people find information on the disease and how to get in touch with chapter offices. The association is also forming a new advisory council to help individuals understand issues related to Alzheimer's.

Called "Maintain Your Brain," the ad campaign encourages exercise, eating healthy foods and controlling weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, which may benefit the brain as well as the heart.

Locally, the Alzheimer's Association continues to provide educational programs and services for caregivers and the public. Services provided by the New Mexico chapter of the Alzheimer's Association include educational programs and materials; a lending library; information and referral Helpline; a national registry for those who wander, called Safe Return; support groups for Family & Friends, Bilingual and Patient Early Stage; and funds for respite for the family caregiver.

The chapter also collaborates with various aging-network providers to establish additional support services. Other collaborations include "Project Lifesaver," a law-enforcement agency wandering program that was initially enacted in 2002 by the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department, and has been established with various other law enforcement agencies across New Mexico.

Every year our volunteers, like thousands of others in 600 communities across the country, participate in Memory Walk to raise funds to support services for those battling the disease. These events have raised more than $175 million nationwide since 1989. Funds raised in New Mexico stay in New Mexico to help support the many programs and services.

The 9th annual Las Cruces Memory Walk will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, to raise awareness and funds to help fund the support services for patients and the families of the 34,000 New Mexicans stricken with this devastating illness. This year's Memory Walk will be held at the Field of Dreams Stadium at 2501 Tashiro Road. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. Awards will be given to various categories of both teams and individual walkers who raise the most funds. Included in the festivities will be door prizes, a Health Fair Expo, Sponsor Exhibits and more.

Volunteers are currently being recruited to help with Memory Walk 2005. Speakers are also available to speak to groups on Alzheimer's disease and the Memory Walk.

 

For Memory Walk Team Kits, registration forms, to volunteer, or other information, call 647-3868. For more information on the Las Cruces Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, you can also write 1100 South Main #9, Las Cruces, NM 88001. The association's toll-free help line is (888) 588-0005.

 

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