Let’s face it… none of us is getting any younger. The demographics for Cambria, as we know, leans toward the retirement-age end of the scale.
And with age (and sometimes even not too much age), come health issues sometimes. But we are not alone with these challenges.
A couple of years ago, the Alzheimer’s Association of SLO County held a forum on the disease here in Cambria at Linn’s Restaurant. It was well attended and created quite a buzz.
Information was given about the association as well as the various forms of Alzheimer’s. The opportunity is being given again, with even more information and ideas and helpful tips, from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Joslyn Center. If you did attend before, you need to attend again to give your input as well as receive vital info. Please preregister by calling 805-547-3830.
I spoke with Sonya Branco, Education and Development Director of the SLO Alzheimer’s Association for the last 5 ½ years, who reminded me that dementia affects one in six people over the age of 65 and one in two over the age of 80. What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
“Some people feel safer using the word dementia, which is a word used to describe a set of issues. It’s like cancer — you want to know what the stages are, the plan of action to address it. If you were to get a diagnosis of just dementia, it would be incomplete,” she said. “It is a disease with 54 types of dementia… 99 percent of these cases are able to be diagnosed with certainty. It’s an outdated idea that you can’t know what the person was suffering from without an autopsy. There are a multitude of tests these days to help guide us toward treatment.”
Of course, I had to ask her about what a doctor friend of mine told me a long time ago about “benign forgetfulness.”
“With Alzheimer’s, people are not being forgetful but having ‘memory loss.’ Forgetfulness is something many of us do every day,” she said. “Eventually you will remember a piece of the puzzle and it will all come together. Memory loss is when those steps never happen. THAT is the big distinction. Our society says, ‘Oh, they’re just old.’ No, being forgetful is NOT necessarily part of the aging process.
“What AIDS was in the 80s, dementia is now. It’s our new health crisis. With people living longer and longer, this is an issue that is in dire need of our attention. Currently, there is nothing known to prevent it, no big scientific funding and certainly no cure. And, this does not just affect seniors any more. Younger and younger people are getting it (‘early onset’ is considered coming on at under 65 years of age). We just lost someone who was only 57 but people in their 40s are even being reported suffering from it.”
Sonya continued, “Families need to get information to doctors. Never go alone to your appointments. The more information is given, the more light is shed on the issue and plans can take shape about at least what to expect in the future. The Alzheimer’s Association is an advocate for sufferers and their families and caregivers. We seek funding to further research but also look to give all the resources and help we can now.
“We’re trying to get Cambria on board. I realize how fiercely independent people are up here and that’s great. Not only can you find help, but, the more data and anecdotal information we gather from you all, the more input we have to fight this affliction! It will just give us a better snapshot of what is happening, what kinds of services we need/want here.”
The Association offers regular support groups around the county including here in Cambria the third Thursday of the month from 9:30-11 a.m. at Pacific Premier Bank at 2255 Main Street. Branco offers classes including once a month at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, which digs deeper into the disease.
“I love these support groups and classes because they work,” she said. “These are safe places for people to come and share. The more people that attend, the more resources we can share. I encourage folks to come even if they think they need to be asking a doctor about symptoms.
“We keep looking for the best ways to get all the information we have to folks- I think this is one of the best ways.”
So, while we can’t grow younger, we can grow more educated and understanding.
Caregivers, sufferers, friends and families who need to share feelings, learn coping strategies and develop support systems, join us for this important gathering. On-site respite care for your loved one may be available, so do ask.
For more information in general (including the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s) go to alz.org/CaCentral and sign up for their regular e-newsletter. There is also a 24/7 help line at 800-273-3900.