Dr. Mary Ann Spanos
Director of Office for Aging Services
Americans are living longer than ever before. While longer life brings great opportunities, older adults also face an increased risk of developing a chronic health condition or a cognitive disorder. Since September is Alzheimer’s awareness month, we want people to recognize the differences between normal aging-related changes and something more serious like dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a general term for a decline memory and thinking ability such that it interferes with everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Many symptoms of dementia can be confused with normal aging like poor judgement and impaired decision-making, inability to manage a budget, losing track of the date or season, difficulty having a conversation, and misplacing things with difficulty retracing your steps. If these things happen occasionally it is probably not dementia but increasing frequency of these types of issues or changes in personality may be pointing to a more serious problem.
It is important if you suspect dementia to seek medical care. Many reversible conditions like dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, and other uncontrolled chronic conditions can cause symptoms similar to dementia. Early detection and treatment of dementia may help to slow progression especially with the new drugs recently approved by the FDA.
Currently there are 6.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this number is expected to increase to 13 million people. COVID contributed to 17% increase in deaths in people with dementia. More than 11 million unpaid caregivers are currently providing 16 billion hours of care to someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. In 2022, dementias including Alzheimer’s cost the nation $321 billion dollars and these costs could rise to nearly 1 Trillion by 2050. Mild cognitive impairment or MCI is a term for the early stage of dementia. Less than 20% of adults are familiar with MCI and most primary care physicians are still not comfortable with diagnosing this condition. One third of the people with MCI will develop dementia within 5 years.
Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services works very closely with Alzheimer’s Association of WNY to support people living with dementia in our community. We provide support to caregivers/care partners, as well as, programs and services for the person with the disease to help them live as independently as possible. Caring for someone with dementia can take a great toll on the physical, financial, and mental health of the primary care giver and their family; so we provide training, respite and services for the caregiver to ensure they have the support they need.
There is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementias. That is why Chautauqua County has joined the Dementia Friendly America movement. We were the first county in NY to receive this designation and it shows our commitment to making sure our community is aware and ready to help support the growing number of people touched by this disease. If you want to know what to do to support someone with dementia or their caregiver, visit Dementia Friends USA ( https://dementiafriendsusa.org) The site has 3 minute videos that show how community members, businesses, emergency personnel and others can recognize and lean in to assist someone struggling with dementia. If you watch 2 of these videos, you can consider yourself a “Dementia Friend” and add your name to the over 1500 people in Chautauqua County who have joined since 2019.
Dementia is a growing problem but there are small things we can do each day to help those affected live productive and happy lives. On September 23rd, the OFAS team will be participating in the Walk to End Alz at Point Gratiot. This event raises money for research with the hope that we can find a cure in our lifetime. If you would like to join us or support our team go to www.alz.org and find Team OFA Chautauqua. In addition, there will be a concert, “MUSIC FOR MOM” to benefit the Walk, Saturday Sept. 16th at Tanglewood Manor’s outdoor park from 1-3 pm. Tickets are $15 and children under 10 are free. As always if you have any questions about programs and services that support older adults, contact our NY Connects helpline at (716) 753-4582.