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Living with Alzheimer's during the pandemic

The Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County says their clients are having a hard time during the pandemic.

TYLER, Texas — The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone around the world. Jamie Huff, program director for the Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County, says the pandemic has been especially tough for people living with Alzheimer's. 

"To tell you the truth it's been devastating," Huff said. "Just honestly, we have had about four to five of our participants, who are regulars at our day club program, pass away since mid-march and they haven't died of COVID but they died from COVID if that makes any sense. 

According to the organization's website, " Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder with no known cause or cure. Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation, and loss of language skills." 

"The social isolation compounds, the isolation that they already had because of this disease," Huff said. "We've heard from all those caregivers, those family members that as soon as we stopped meeting for day club and not having that cognitive and social stimulation, and they had to stay at home all the time and not seeing anyone, their cognition level and physical deterioration, it just tanked."

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There are 5.8 million people in the U.S living with Alzheimer's. About 3,500 of them are in Smith County. 

"Alzheimer's disease is not just losing your memory," Huff said. "Neither is any other irreversible type of dementia, it affects your whole body, not just your mind, and it will result in death."

Dementia is a term that describes a set of symptoms such as memory, judgment, language, and motor skills caused by irreversible damage or the death of brain cells. Alzheimer's is the most common form of irreversible dementia. 

Huff says the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow to 14 million by the year 2050.

"Even though you may not be facing this in your family, or know a friend with dementia, you will," Huff said. "One in three people know somebody who has dementia and just because you don't know, doesn't mean you won't,"

When the pandemic hit, the Alzheimer's Association of Smith County stopped offering their popular twice a weekday club sessions, where people with mild or moderate dementia could get together to enjoy each other's company. 

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"We had to close down that day club in-person in mid-march, and we have gone to a day club zoom once a week on Thursdays at 10 o'clock," Huff said. 

They're starting to offer some in-person services for both patients and their caregivers but now they're in need of support from the community. 

"Fundraising has taken a huge hit because we can't have these big events that we normally do," Huff said. "We usually have a "Butterfly Hope Luncheon" in September, October, November around there. Also "Mah Jong for Memory" in the summer and that didn't happen."

With November being Alzheimer's Awareness Month, the organization is getting creative with their fundraising efforts. They're holding an online silent auction all month long on their website and are holding a virtual wine tasting later this month.