TYLER, Texas — According to the Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County, one in three seniors living in Smith County will die from Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Ten percent of those over 65 years of age and 50% of people over 85 are affected by Alzheimer's. More than 4.5 million Americans are believed to have Alzheimer's disease and by 2050, the number could increase to 13.2 million. Approximately 59,000 victims die and 350,000 new cases of Alzheimer's disease are diagnosed each year.
The Alzheimer's Association says Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer's is the fifth-leading cause of death among those age 65 and older and is also is a leading cause of disability and poor health.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, I'm just getting forgetful because I'm getting old.,'" said Stephanie Taylor, Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County. "So I just want to make sure that I clear up that this is not a normal part of aging. It is a degenerative brain disease."
According to Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County, more than 5 million Americans have this disease. Within 30 years, that number could rise to 14 million.
"Typically your risk increases as you get older," said Taylor. "So as people are starting to live longer, of course, their risk for developing some form of Dementia increases. So really, that population is over 65 but we are seeing people diagnosed younger and younger."
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The symptoms can vary. It's not just forgetting things here and there, it's complete memory loss of daily tasks — forgetting how to get to work, weekly meetings or forgetting a family member. Confusion, disorientation, anxiety and depression are also signs of Alzheimer's and dementia. These symptoms could be the cause of several illnesses, which is why the it's so important to test for it early on.
"It can also be something like Lewy Body dementia [which] is characterized by not by memory loss, but hallucinations and suicidal ideation," Taylor said. "So just noting that significant change that impacts your daily living."
Adding COVID-19 concerns, it can decrease overall health.
"We've seen a real decline, both in the person living with dementia and their health, and also in the caregivers from really being isolated and having to stay at home and that lack of interaction during the shelter in place, but they are most vulnerable and at risk population for adverse effects from COVID," Taylor added.
The illness impacts not only those who are diagnosed, but their caretakers, as well.
"Our caregivers actually are in worse health than the person living with Alzheimer's disease because they are caring for that person 24 hours a day, but they're not caring for themselves," said Taylor.
To get tested, Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County offers free Alzheimer's and dementia screenings. The organization also provides programs for both caregivers and those dealing with the illness.