Alzheimer’s numbers soar; local facilities manage
by Bradley Hartsell
In a recent report released by the Alzheimer’s Association, it is projected that the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will go from five million today to 16 million by 2050.
Also according to report findings, one in six women will develop the disease, while men of similar age have a one in 11 chance.
Mary Ann Neureiter, director of Cambridge House Enrichment Center in Coweta County, isn’t sure why Alzheimer’s diagnoses are on the rise, but Cambridge House is just one of several local organizations offering assistance in any way they can to aging Cowetans. Alzheimer’s Association estimates 1,915 people in Coweta County are currently living with the disease.
“We really feel, and this has been proven by clients we have coming here, keeping people active, socializing, exercising, giving them purpose, it seems to slow down the progress of the disease,” Neureiter said. The Cambridge House adult day-care facility is on Highway 154 just south of Highway 34 East, near Thomas Crossroads.
Brenda Mitchell, director of Savannah Court retirement home in Newnan, believes the disease has always been around, and that doctors have simply become more equipped to detect it more quickly and effectively.
“I’ve been working with seniors for the past 42 years, and I think there’s a lot more research and development,” Mitchell said. “What used to be classified as hardening of the arteries 30 years ago, they can better diagnosis [as Alzheimer’s]. The tests that are out there now, mentally and medically, I believe a lot of it is just being better at diagnosis. The disease has apparently always been there.”
While Mitchell and Neureiter are pleased with the progress of medicine and caregiving, Neureiter believes there’s still one area where care is lacking. Early detection.
“Family members are in denial about their loved ones having Alzheimer’s. They don’t want to see it, and by waiting, we can’t help the people. People end up going a longer time than they should without getting the care they need,” she said.
“Early diagnosis is very important. I know in this area, there are so many people who come in here who are caregivers,” she added. “We’ll ask, ‘How long has your mom had Alzheimer’s?’ They’ll say, ‘We first noticed five years ago.’ Well, five years is a long time to go without care.”
Neureiter says with people who’ve been diagnosed early, and facilities like Cambridge House and Savannah Court, caregivers can stave off the most debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s.
“We have clients who have been here for several years and they’ve remained at the same level, because of our memory care program, and it helps maintain their independence,” said Neureiter. “That’s what we want to do with the community, with this epidemic that’s going on. We have a significant elderly population in Coweta, and we’d like to see more providers like us, helping people keep their cognitive level.”
“We have improved by leaps and bounds in being able to diagnosis this disease early, with people as early as their late 30s,” Mitchell said. “Medicines are available if you catch it early enough to stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s for a while. It’s very important.”
Mitchell says in her career, professional caregiving in assisted living facilities has improved tremendously.
“A long time ago, when I first got in this industry, you did not have a separate secure unit for people with dementia. They were integrated into population. That made caring for those people difficult,” she said.
Now, Savannah Court is one of the many facilities offering separate units. Small, secure spaces are where people living with Alzheimer’s best operate, she said.
Facilities like Cambridge House and Savannah Court often contribute to medical research seeking advanced treatment information and eventually, a cure. According to the report released by Alzheimer’s Association, the numbers will keep rising before they start to recede.
Until then, Neureiter hopes families will do what is best for their loved ones and let facilities equipped to manage the disease do the best they can.
“We still need a lot more education to family members who don’t act early enough. The more education to the community, the better we can counteract and fight this disease, as soon as family members detect something going on. I really feel this will help lower the numbers [afflicted]. At least people will be treated.
“We all see it but we don’t want to see it. We’ve got to stop doing that.”