Alice Watkins, a 27-year member of the NC Alzheimer’s Association, called into Wednesday’s edition of WIZS’ Town Talk program to discuss Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
While only one of several types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is, according to Watkins, “certainly the most prevalent.” Typically affecting those age 65 to 85, the currently irreversible disease is characterized by a progressive loss of memory and ability to complete everyday tasks.
“The two things that I always try to get people to understand about Alzheimer’s is that it is a form of dementia and that it is not a normal part of aging,” said Watkins. “We have found, through research, that the disease can start 20 years before noticeable symptoms appear,” Watkins said.
As the disease progresses, the afflicted may forget how to engage in tasks such as brushing their teeth or taking a bath. “Getting them to take a bath and taking their license away are two of the most critical things children of parents with Alzheimer’s have to deal with,” said Watkins. “They are accustomed to their parents being in charge and telling them what to do.”
Watkins cautions that not all issues with memory or the completion of tasks lead to a diagnosis of dementia. “Things that can be fixed, such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency or a urinary tract infection can often mimic signs of dementia.”
While deficiencies and infections can often be cured, currently Alzheimer’s cannot. “Alzheimer’s is the third leading cause of death and the most feared of the diseases in the United States,” Watkins said. “There is currently no cure.”
Watkins remains hopeful that one day a cure will be discovered and is encouraged by upcoming research efforts. “We are seeing more young researchers getting involved, exploring new avenues of research and examining how diseases link. We are also seeing more of an international effort to find answers.”
One branch of dementia research is currently focused on traumatic brain injury and its effect on the military, specifically. “Researchers are finding that more and more returning military personnel are suffering from traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and many of these cases are progressing into Alzheimer’s,” said Watkins.
Increased research, additional funding and getting people into clinical trials is the key to speeding up the process of finding both a cause and cure, Watkins believes.
“We are getting better with diagnostic tools. If we find one tool that can definitively say ‘this is Alzheimer’s disease,’ then we will be one big step ahead. Right now, there is not such a tool; instead, everything else is ruled out.”
Even with a “ruling out” diagnosis made, the only way to know for sure that the disease was Alzheimer’s is with an autopsy after death, said Watkins.
According to Watkins, groups such as UsAgainstAlzheimer’s based out of Washington, D.C., are responsible for Congress’ recent allocation of $425 million to Alzheimer’s research. “That brings the disease, for the first time, to $2.3 billion in research.”
That figure, while staggering, is still well below funding allocated for heart disease and cancer research.
“The part that is desperately needed in all of this is funding,” Watkins explained. “I encourage people to stay on top of this by checking in with Congressional leaders. Encourage them to look at acts like the Change Act that focuses on care being provided to these patients by families and the costs they incur.”
To hear the interview in its entirety, please click here.
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