CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has the fourth oldest population in the nation with nearly 36,000 West Virginians over the age of 65 living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The amount of people diagnosed with the disease is expected to increase by 22.2 percent over the next decade, bringing the number of Alzheimer’s patients up to 44,000 West Virginians by the year 2025.
With these growing numbers, national Alzheimer’s and family care giving expert Stephanie Erickson said it’s important to start talking with aging relatives as a family when everybody is healthy.
“It gives us so much opportunity to plan financially and also to plan in terms of our values and what type of care and support we would want when we’re healthy,” she said.
Erickson, who provides advice to families and those living with the disease nationwide, said many aging Americans are unaware they even have the disease.
“Only about 45 percent of people are told (by doctors) of this diagnosis,” she said. “But people who have cancer or, let’s say cardiovascular disease, about 90 percent of those people are told.”
Because the disease is so unknown, at times, Erickson advised families to be proactive when speaking with their older loved ones. She said the key to navigating the challenging task of making sure an older loved one is respected and well taken care of is to open all lines of communication.
“Be very honest about what you’re capable of giving as a care giver and what you expect as a potential patient or care recipient later in life, so that you can make sure the family is on the same page and that all of those values and requests are put into legal documents,” she said.
Once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Erickson said she still suggests families sit together to look at the symptoms, challenges and care options.
Erickson said a person who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s should still try to sign legal documents or get their wishes in writing. Once there are higher care needs, options for home care services and assisted living homes are available, she said.
Across the country there are more than 15 million family caregivers, including 108,000 West Virginia caregivers, the AA reported, which is enough to fill West Virginia University’s Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown twice.
While there is no cure for the disease, Erickson said there are ways to establish an awareness about the disease nationwide.
“I think the more we create movement, it does generate the awareness, obviously, which then generates the funding and then hopefully that can all roll out to legislative changes and research,” she said.
In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, West Virginia Radio Corporation has partnered with the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association to raise money for education efforts.
The No Shave November Promotion includes 12 radio personalities, including eight from Morgantown and four from Charleston, who have agreed not to shave during the course of this month. The employees will also be utilizing their social media accounts and talking about the promotion on air to raise awareness.
To make a donation, visit www.noshavewv.com.
Founded in 1980, the Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. The association works to provide education and support to the more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and their family care givers.