A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Raising awareness for Alzheimer’s disease

walkers at a Walk to End Alzheimers event

Tiffany Cox had personal reasons for participating in her local “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” event.

“It’s something I can do every year to honor my father,” said Cox, a day care worker in Marshfield.

She’s been providing in-home care for her father, Gerald Kohl, who at age 59 is suffering from a dementia believed to be early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“Honestly, the hardest part of it for me is the confusion,” she said. “A lot of times he’ll recognize me by face but not the concept that I’m his daughter. It can seem like he doesn’t like me anymore.”

Her father is a physically strong man who is now prone to episodes of anger and thus can be difficult to manage.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a way for her to network with others caring for parents with the disease.

“It’s crazy how many people out there are affected by it. I never expected to see so much love and support from so many people, some of them dedicating money or helping raise donations. And I had no idea of the amount of support I would get from people,” she said.

You’re not alone

Cox’s experience is typical for walkers, according to Kathy Davies, program and advocacy director for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Wisconsin chapter.

“Our walks help reassure caregivers that they are not alone and help raise awareness. Sometimes people have no idea their own neighbors are dealing with Alzheimer’s,” Davies said.

The walks are also an important source of revenue to support research, care and supportive services to caregivers, who Davies called “angels” to thousands of people living with this devastating disease.

A heartbreaking scene

Dr. Veeresh Bajaj, a psychiatrist specializing in geriatric care, said there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which is frustrating for patients and their caregivers.

“The most common reason I see for people who have to place a loved one in an institution is that they can no longer sleep at night. The patient is too disruptive, mixing their days and nights, and the caregiver needs a break,” Bajaj said. “I just had two patients who had celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. It’s heartbreaking when you see that, after all those years together, one spouse can recall the highlights of their marriage but the other one cannot.”

Some psychotic medications can calm a patient with anxiety or depression, though these drugs can cause problems of their own, especially if they are overprescribed.

Although there are no treatments to reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease, research continues for a cure or better treatments.

Caregivers seeking support can find more information at www.alz.org.

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