According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is "a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior."
Though symptoms usually develop slowly, they worsen over time and could become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Today, more than five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease with more on the rise; medical experts expect the number of cases to increase to 13 million in the next 15 years.
In response to these alarming figures, the MPNN Association is hosting a Walk to End Alzheimer's on Saturday, September 21 at Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester (6361 Main Street, Gloucester). Registration begins at 9 a.m., the program starts at 9:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 10 a.m.
The event includes a free one-mile and three-mile walk. Those interested in walking for the cause should visit: alz.org/walk and register a team or join one that is already formed. Teams raise funds through a variety of fundraisers. Every walker that raises $100 will receive the 2013 walk t-shirt. People may also register and donate without walking.
As of Monday, September 9, 29 teams and 286 walkers had registered.
The Walk to End Alzheimer's is the nation's largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's care support and research. The money raised will support, services, education and respite scholarships for the 10 counties it covers, including King William, King & Queen, and West Point.
"More than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer's disease," said Ellie Galloway, regional director of the MPNN Alzheimer's Association Greater Richmond Chapter. "Soon, no one will be left untouched."
West Point resident Carole [she asked that her last name be withheld] has firsthand knowledge of how Alzheimer's affects patients and families.
Carole's husband, Barrie, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when he was 72 years-old. Although he spent the next eight years battling the disease, Carole says he never lost his spirit.
"He was a charming, happy-go-lucky fellow. He would often entertain people with his harmonica," she said. "People loved him."
Carole and Barrie moved from New York to West Point in October 2011 to be closer to their daughter. Shortly after moving to Town, Carole searched for a place where her husband could socialize. One day when reading the Tidewater Review, Carole came across an article about the local West Point Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Group, offered by MPNN Alzheimer's Association.
After joining the group, Carole was told about the Bay Aging Adult Day Break, which was partially funded by a MPNN Association scholarship.
"Bay Aging would pick him up and bring him home two days a week," said Carole. "He loved the bus driver and had a great time at the center."
According to Carole, the center offered Barrie not only transportation, but also meals (breakfast, a hot lunch, and snack), craft activities, line dancing, TV, DVDs, music, parties, and the opportunity to walk, one of his favorite past times.
Barrie, a former caricature and cartoon artist, also spent time drawing in a sketchbook. The MPNN Alzheimer's Association often displayed his work in the "Memories in the Making" art exhibits.
For Carole, the disease that took her husband's memory was kinder to him than to many others. The mother of four girls, Carole was able to care for her husband, who could still bathe and feed himself.
"He was Mr. Easy. I was very fortunate," she said.
Carole helped Barrie with what she calls the "day-to-day stuff," including picking out his clothes, making sure he was dressed appropriately, giving him his medicine every day, and driving him around Town.
As he got older and the Alzheimer's advanced, Carole noticed that her husband was unaware that they had moved to West Point.
"He kept asking me when we were going home, and that was really hard," she said. "The funny thing about Alzheimer's patients is their strong long-term memory, even though they quickly forget new information."
"He could tell me his first grade teacher's name and his basketball coach, but couldn't remember what he ate that morning."
"He and I were married for 49 3/4 years, and when he died, it was very sad," said Carole, who is now involved in a local quilting guild and volunteering at 4Paws thrift in Town.
"He was just a great person. Everyone loved him."
Those caring for an Alzheimer's patient are invited to attend one of the many Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Groups in the area.
According to MPNN, the Alzheimer's Association Caregiver Support Groups were designed to "provide emotional, educational and social support for caregivers through regularly scheduled meetings, and help participants develop methods and skills to solve problems."
"The groups encourage caregivers to maintain their own personal, physical and emotional health, as well as optimally care for the person with dementia," MPNN staff said in an email.
The Caregiver Support Groups meet in:
1.) Second Wednesday of each month 10:30 a.m. at the Gloucester Alzheimer's Association office (7335 Lewis Avenue Gloucester, VA 23061). No respite available. Contact: 804-695-9382.
2.) Third Thursday of each month 6 p.m. at the Alzheimer's Association office (7335 Lewis Avenue, Gloucester, VA). No respite available. Contact: 804-695-9382.
•Mathews: Third Tuesday of each month 10 a.m. at the Central United Methodist Church (121 Church Street, Mathews, VA). No respite available. Contact: 804-725-2832.
•Urbanna: Fourth Thursday of each month 1:30 p.m. at Port Town Village Apartments (111 Port Town Lane, Urbanna, VA). No respite available, Contact: 804-758-2386.
•West Point: Third Tuesday of each month 6 p.m. at the West Point Family Y.M.C.A. (3135 King William Avenue, West Point, VA). No respite available. Contact: 804-843-3300.
For more information on the Caregiver Support Groups, please contact the Alzheimer's Association Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck Branch office at 804-695-9382.
Information courtesy Alzheimer's Association and Senior Helpers
What to look for:
The 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include:
•Memory loss that disrupts daily life: One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss, especially with recently learned information. Other examples could be: forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over, increasingly relying on memory aids (notes, etc.) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
•Challenges in planning of solving problems: Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or familiar recipe, or keeping track of monthly bills. They may also have trouble concentrating and take much longer to complete familiar tasks.
•Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work, or leisure: People with Alzheimer's have trouble completing daily tasks, including driving to a familiar location, managing a budget, or remembering rules of a favorite game.
•Confusion with time or place: People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
•Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance, and determining color or contrast.
•New problem with words in speaking or writing: People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, having problems finding the right words, or call things by the wrong name.
•Misplacing things and losing the ability to trace steps: People with Alzheimer's may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps. Sometimes they may accuse others of stealing.
•Decreased or poor judgment: A person with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may give large sums of money to telemarketers. They also may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
•Withdrawal from work or social activities: An Alzheimer's patient may remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a sports team or remembering how to complete the hobby.
•Changes in mood and personality: The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change. They can become confused, suspicious, anxious, depressed, or fearful. They may be easily upset at home, work, with friends or family, or in places out of their comfort zone.