Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States?
By the year 2030 which is just 13 years away we will have an Alzheimer’s disease tsunami. This will put a tremendous burden on family caregivers and society. Alzheimer’s is an epic disease. In the United States every 67 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s disease. According to Mark Hensley, Dementia Services Coordinator with the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services, North Carolina ranks ninth nationally, both in total population and in the number of people 65 years old and older. In 2025, one in five North Carolinians will be 65 years old and older. Currently, North Carolina has over 160,000 older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The numbers are almost unbelievable.
Who were, and are, the faces of Alzheimer’s disease; Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, Glen Campbell, Perry Como, Charles Bronson, Norman Rockwell, Rita Hayworth, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rosa Parks and Robin Williams to only name a few. Though these are the names of famous people, many are known only by their community. Alzheimer’s disease affects so many people and so many families. If you have not dealt with it personally you know of someone that has.
I recently became aware that David Cassidy has Alzheimer’s disease. He is better known by my generation as “Keith Partridge” son of “Shirley Partridge” from the 1970s sitcom “The Partridge Family”. He has been suffering from memory loss and at a recent show forgot the lyrics to the songs he’s been performing for the past five years. Somehow this really troubles me; I guess it is because he is very close to my age. This disease has no preference as to who you are, it really does not care, and it can knock on anyone’s door.
My Uncle “Shug” Royal had Alzheimer’s disease. He lived with this disease a little over 10 years. He was a very special Uncle. He always had a smile and something funny to say. As the disease progressed in his life he would forget he had eaten, especially candy. My Uncle Shug loved Butterfingers and he would often forget he had eaten one. Even when the sides of his recliner were full of empty Butterfinger wrappers when asked, “Would you like a Butterfinger, Uncle Shug?” he would always reply, “Yes, I would like one, I haven’t had one today.”
My Uncle Shug kept his wonderful sense of humor and the good nature he possessed before he got this disease. What a blessing that was to my cousins, Joseph Royal and Margaret Pope. My Uncle “Shug” Royal passed away April 30, 2012 and still there is no cure for this dreaded disease.
Most weeks I receive a call from a family that is living with Alzheimer’s disease. Many of their questions are the same. “What do we do?” or “Where do we go?” or “We really need help” or “I do not think I can handle this anymore”.
My heart goes out to these families. Our society is so out of tune when it comes to this disease. When we think about our community we are drawn to the fact that everyone has a “home town.” What does your “home town” look like? Is it a “Dementia Friendly Community?” How do we become Dementia Friendly? To frame a plan we would start by; raising awareness about dementia, transforming attitudes by education, supporting caregivers and families touched by the disease and promoting meaningful participation in community life by public safety. According to Mark Hensley, hope is not a plan, but preparation is a plan.
I would like to invite you to attend a community enrichment session at the Wellness Center at 417 E. Johnson St. Clinton on Monday, Nov. 13 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. This session will provide an understanding about dementia and effective communication with older adults. Hope you have a “Best Day Ever.”
Lesia Henderson is a Positive Approach to Care Independent Trainer and Sampson County Department of Aging Family Caregiver Support Specialist.