Alzheimer’s cruel toll in West Virginia

One of the most poignant television ads during the Super Bowl was for Google Assistant.  The spot, called “Loretta,” is about an older man who clearly has memory issues and uses the Google Assistant to remember things about his late wife.

Google said the ad was inspired by the story of a grandfather of a Google employee, who voiced the commercial.  The reaction to the commercial was mixed.

Some critics say it had a creepy dystopian feel of a society where machines know limitless amounts of personal information. But others found the ad deeply moving, as did I.

If you have a loved one or have cared for a family member with memory issues, then you know how difficult it can be.  In the early stages of memory loss, the individual can be frustrated, confused and even angry as they sense their cognitive skills slipping.

As the person becomes more impaired, they may have behavioral problems, lose the ability to recognize family members and friends, or lose bladder and bowel control. In the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a person may lose the ability to swallow, be unable to speak and unaware of their surroundings.

Today is Alzheimer’s Awareness Day in West Virginia and advocates from around the state will be at the Capitol meeting with policy makers about the challenges associated with care for people with memory issues, and there are many.

Here are some facts from the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association:

—38,000 West Virginians are living with Alzheimer’s, and more than 700 die from the disease every year. The number of West Virginians 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will rise to 44,000 by 2025.

—An estimated 106,000 caregivers are responsible for West Virginians with Alzheimer’s.  Caregivers provided an estimated 121 million hours of unpaid care in 2018.

—West Virginia spent $430 million in state and federal Medicaid dollars last year caring for people with Alzheimer’s.  It’s estimated that figure will rise by 20 percent over the next five years.

—Alzheimer’s is an expensive disease because it often fails to respond to medications like other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

—Fewer than half of all West Virginians with dementia are diagnosed, and without diagnoses, there is no planning for care.

We spend our lives accumulating memories, both bad and good. The human mind has a remarkable ability to retain the moments most meaningful to us and over time they become the scrapbook of our lives. Dementia and Alzheimer’s rob people of that ability in the cruelest way possible… a memory at a time.

It’s reasonable to be suspicious of a device that can store a person’s personal information and regurgitate it on command. However, those who are experiencing the effects of memory loss or are caring for a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s may be buoyed by a technology that can help.





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