MARQUETTE - There are about 8,400 people in the Upper Peninsula with Alzheimer's disease or dementia and according to officials with a local Alzheimer's group, that number is likely to double as the Baby Boomer generation gets older.
Ruth Almen, regional director of the Greater Michigan Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, said the U.P. will be hit particularly hard because its population is typically older when compared to the rest of the country.
Almen said although Alzheimer's kills more Americans than diabetes and more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, there are still too few people who understand the anguish caused by the disease.
(Mining Journal file photo)
"Oftentimes people don't understand what's happening to them and so they feel like they're not remembering things like they're supposed to," she said. "They feel like they're not as smart as they used to be or something is going on. So there's a personal anguish with the person with the disease until they realize what is happening. Then there is the anguish of Alzheimer's itself, which is knowing that there's nothing we have right now that will ultimately stop the spread."
There's also the anguish of the family of those with the disease.
"They will be left to watch their loved one slowly fade away before their eyes. Things that are familiar to them and really kind of bind them together - their memories, shared experiences and values and history - will become irrelevant for the person with Alzheimer's," she said.
For some people, the disease affects their personality.
"Someone who's always been very gentle and very kind and very easygoing can say hurtful things, do hurtful things because their brain is impacted and they can't make sense like they used to," Almen said.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's and although there are risk factors associated with the disease, there is no proven cause.
"That's part of the reason they can't find a cure, they're not even sure what's causing it yet," Almen said.
Age is the biggest risk factor. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol - all conditions related to blood flow to the brain, Almen said.
Starting this year more than 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 a day. As they continue to age, one in eight will develop Alzheimer's. According to a new Alzheimer's Association report, "Generation Alzheimer's," an estimated 10 million baby boomers will develop the disease and one in eight will either die with or from it.
Beyond the emotional toll, the financial burden on families is significant and can quickly escalate. The nation as a whole is expected to face a similar financial burden. Over the next 40 years, Alzheimer's will cost $20 trillion to taxpayers, enough to pay off the national debt and still send a $20,000 check to every man, woman and child in America.
The full text of the Alzheimer's Association's Generation Alzheimer's report can be viewed at www.alz.org/boomers.
For more information about the disease call 906-228-3910 or go to www.alz.org/gmc.
The Greater Michigan Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association will hold a conference at Northern Michigan University on April 18. Almen said the conference is for professionals, family members of people with the disease and anyone wishing to know more about it.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.