If it seems as if more people around you either are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or caring for someone diagnosed, then you might be seeing the next national health crisis unfold in real time.
The progressive, irreversible neurological disorder, the most common form of dementia, is the third leading age-adjusted cause of death in Washington state and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
There is no cure, but there are local resources for those whose families are facing this diagnosis.
To detail them, the Health Care Providers Council of Pierce County and Pierce County Aging & Disability Resources will present Alzheimer’s Caregiver Conference 2017 on Saturday.
The conference will be from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1315 N. Stevens St., Tacoma. The event is free, but registration is required either by going to bit.ly/2f2okD1 or calling 253-798-8787.
“There is hardly a family today that has not been touched in some way by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” Aaron Van Valkenburg, Pierce County Aging and Disability Resources manager, said in announcing the conference.
“The dedication that is demanded of caregivers is enormous.”
Saturday’s conference will provides “the kind of practical skills and resources that caregivers can put into practice immediately,” Van Valkenburg said. “Those tips and tools enable caregivers to provide better care for their loved one as well as take better care of themselves.”
The keynote speaker will be Laura Wayman, known for her writing and teaching in the field of Alzheimer’s, dementia and long-term care.
She also will lead a breakout session at the conference.
Wayman’s path to becoming “the Dementia Whisperer” stemmed from her parents’ struggle with dementia 15 years ago, after her father was diagnosed. She says her mother died of a heart attack amid managing his care.
She contends 68 percent of dementia caregivers, without proper support, die before the person they are taking care of passes on.
“My mission is to help caregivers have a better understanding with realistic expectations,” she told The News Tribune in a phone interview from her home base in Roseville, California.
“There is no such thing as good cookie-cutter care.”
Her emphasis is on finding a way to customize care for each patient with the goal of a “dementia aware” society.
“Everyone should be dementia aware because this is a national pandemic,” Wayman said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that the nation’s death rates from Alzheimer’s increased 55 percent from 1999 to 2014.
The number of deaths from the disease at home also increased during the same period, the CDC said, going from 14 to 25 percent and “ suggesting an increase in the number of caregivers that would benefit from support, including education and case management services.”
According to the CDC: “Counties with the highest death rates were primarily in the Southeast; other areas with high rates included the Midwest and West Coast.”
In its annual report, the national Alzheimer’s Association noted the disease “is the only top 10 cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.”
The report also counts more than 15 million Americans providing unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, at a cost valued at “nine times the total revenue of McDonald’s in 2015.”
“You cannot stop it, fix it or change it,” Wayman said, “but you can think out of the box and be creative ... find meaningful moments and empower people to know they can do that.”
▪ The national Alzheimer’s Association offers an online guide to finding support groups at www.alzwa.org/support-groups/locate/
▪ Pierce County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center offers a guide to local groups at bit.ly/2wo6YmB
▪ The website of “the Dementia Whisperer,” Laura Wayman, is www.laurawayman.com