All but four or five hands went up when I asked the question: “How many of you have a family member or friend who’s been touched by Alzheimer’s?”
I was speaking to about fifty members and guests of the Downtown St. Petersburg Rotary Club, one of the more active civic clubs in town.
Frankly, I was surprised by the show of hands. I think I was expecting to see half of the audience, at most, acknowledging they’ve experienced the fallout from this disease to one degree or another.
But 45 of those 50 in attendance?!
Granted, this was a small sample of an older than average age group, but our story may have a wider reach than I’ve imagined.
Seeing those hands go up reinforced a growing conviction of mine: Alzheimer’s ranks right at the top of baby boomers’ fears as this generation steamrolls into its 60’s and 70’s. It’s up there with cancer.
I’ve written a manuscript and a lot of on-line posts about our family’s journey through Alzheimer’s, but this Rotary meeting was the first time I’ve talked publicly about our experience.
Despite being a bit rusty at public speaking, I could tell that more than a few in the audience seemed unusually attentive.
My friend Bob Carter told me afterwards that as I shared our experience he looked especially at those who didn’t know my wife Martha or me, and saw several with rather poignant looks on their faces.
I first read to these Rotarians an excerpt from an earlier post about the time we were told Martha has Alzheimer’s. She’d just turned fifty.
Time was short, so I had to cut out some information from my talk, which you may find of interest. These facts and figures are from the Alzheimer’s Association and relate only to the United States:
1) Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Early symptoms often include depression, apathy, and difficulty remembering recent conversations, names, and events. Later symptoms include impaired communication, disorientation, poor judgment, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking.
2) Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death, and it’s the only one among the top ten causes of death that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
3) Between 2000 and 2013, deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s rose by 71 percent while deaths from other diseases declined—HIV/AIDS, down 52 percent; strokes, down 23 percent; heart disease, down 14 percent; prostate cancer, down 11 percent; and breast cancer, down 2 percent.
4) Almost two-thirds of those persons with Alzheimer’s are women.
5) Of those persons with Alzheimer’s, the burden shared by age group is:
- Under 65—4 percent.
- 65 to 74—15 percent.
- 75 to 84—43 percent.
- 85 and older—38 percen t.
6) Of those persons 65 and older, one in nine has Alzheimer’s.
7) An estimated 5.3 million individuals had Alzheimer’s in 2015. Approximately 200,000 are under 65.
8) By 2025, the number of persons 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is estimated to grow from 5.1 million today to 7.2 million by 2025. That’s a 40 percent increase, barring any major medical breakthroughs.
These statistics are stark, and they can be scary. But I want to emphasize yet again that Alzheimer’s is not the focus of our family’s story. It’s the context: I can’t tell our story without talking about Alzheimer’s.
The focus of our story is the path that opened before us during our darkest hours. This path is not always easy to discern or to follow, but after several years it did lead Martha, our children, and me to a place that helped us transcend the emotional and mental distress precipitated by this disease.
These posts do not permit enough time or space to go into detail about where and how this path unfolded before us. That’s why I’ve written a book, which should come out this fall. Its working title-subtitle is A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s.
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