The Alzheimer’s Association’s (AA) new report, “Generation Alzheimer’s: The Defining Disease of the Baby Boomers,” sheds light on the debilitating disease affecting the first wave of baby boomers, who are now approaching age 65.
The report estimates that 10 million baby boomers, which is one of out of eight, will get Alzheimer’s, the “fatal brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior,” according to the AA. For those who reach age 85, one out of two will develop the incurable disease. The number of people affected is escalating. Currently, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease–double the number of people diagnosed with the disease in 1980. It is expected to affect 13.5 million by 2050, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a person generally lives between four to six years; however, some live as long as 20 years, stated the AA.
The fate may be even worse for American Indians. According to the Alzheimer Society, cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking and obesity are associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is a concern to the Indian Health Service (IHS), considering the prevalence of these risk factors, such as an aging population, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, said Bruce Finke, M.D., a family physician and a geriatric specialist who serves as lead for Elder Care in IHS, reported U.S. Medicine.
According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, eight states will see a doubling in the number of elderly by 2020: Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Georgia, Utah, Alaska, and California. The aging baby boomer population, which the Census determines as persons born between 1946 and 1964, will contribute to the drastic increase of elderly in all states. The Census projects the American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut population to be the second fastest growing population in the West from 1993 to 2020, and their population in Arizona should nearly double over the period.
“We do know dementia exists and is a signi?cant health problem for American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Dr. Finke said. “There are a couple of reasons to suggest that it is increasing. One is that the age of the American Indian and Alaska Native population is increasing and we know that dementia of all sorts increases in prevalence with age. So, it is a blessing to have more elders in Indian Country, but we know as our population ages that we expect to see more dementia.
The other thing is that there are other conditions that contribute to the rate and severity of dementia, especially high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and stroke. Those rates are higher in American Indian and Alaska Natives and increasing because of the relationship with diabetes.”
The AA is working to better educate American Indian communities of Alzheimer’s. The association partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) in North Carolina, opening an AA office in the EBCI Health & Medical Division offices on September 20, 2010–the first of its kind on an American Indian reservation, according to the American Indian Report. “It’s the first time that we’re actually provided this type of service in our community,” Vickie Bradley, EBCI deputy health officer, told Cherokee One Feather prior to the office’s inception.
Teresa Hoover, the senior director of programs and family services at the AA’s Western Carolina Chapter, told Cherokee One Feather that the AA hopes to help remove the stigma attached to Alzheimer’s, “so that there’s no shame involved in seeking treatment.”
Hoover commended the tribe’s health system and its initial steps in providing Alzheimer’s education and support. “This particular tribe is very progressive. They have their own hospital, own diabetes system, own caregiver program; and they own the only nursing home in the county,” Hoover told Indian Country Today Media Network. “They are very engaged already, but less engaged about Alzheimer’s. We are working with them to bring awareness that the association is here to help them, to provide education across counties covered by that office.”
Hoover noted that the AA is working closely with the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to explore how Alzheimer’s is impacting their culture, such as the loss of storytellers. The foundation is also in the process of translating the word Alzheimer’s into Cherokee. “They are making up a written word using their syllabary,” Hoover said.
The AA’s Western Carolina Chapter is planning Alzheimer’s awareness events on the tribe’s land. “We are working with them to do the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which used to be called the Memory Walk. We are holding one of the walks on their tribal boundary some time in the fall.”
Hoover hopes the word Alzheimer’s will be translated into their native language in time to be printed on t-shirts for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, contact the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900 or visit www.alzwnc.org.