Health and Wellness Corner: Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that disconnects

Dan Lykens

Christine Lee, Life Editor

Minerva Gaspar’s grandmother has trouble remembering Gaspar. She can’t even remember Gaspar’s father, her own son, and thinks of herself as a child.

“She needs constant care and (needs) to be watched 24 hours a day,” Gaspar, an undeclared freshman, said.

Gaspar said it is stressful for her family to deal with the disease, as there is nothing they can do about it and the medication doesn’t seem to help.

Gaspar’s grandmother is one of millions worldwide suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a form of memory loss affecting people aged 65 and older. This month, the Pre-Professional Society is hosting a series of awareness sessions with doctors and other professionals to help educate the public about the disease.

About 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and there are approximately 15 million unpaid caregivers devoting 17 billion hours of care to those afflicted by the disease.

The Greater Pennsylvania  chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association said every 68 seconds a person is diagnosed and the disease is the 6th leading cause of death and the only one that can’t be cured or slowed significantly.

GPCAA interm Director of Programs and Services Clayton Jacobs said until recently, Alzheimer’s had a stigma that made people not want to discuss it. But the growing number of people aging makes the discussion more important.

“Not only is it important for those going through it, we know one in every three families is affected so we all know someone, so (it has) some impact on our lives,” Jacobs said. “It’s partly our need to understand and to support each other in the community.”

The first session, “Diagnosis and Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Care,” held on March 13, touched on some of the warning signs, early stages of the disease and the disease’s impact on families.

The second session, “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: A View from the Arts,” was held on March 21. Pre-Professional Society members Brielle Stanton and Nathaniel Lamoreaux, both biology majors, spoke at the session about the emotional and personal side of the disease. The session included a reception featuring artwork from the art therapy program “Memories in the Making.”

“(The program) is about the process of creating and finding different outlets for someone to express themselves even if they’re having issues with memory and the ability to communicate,” Jacobs said.

The third session, “Alzheimer’s Issues: Panel Presentation and Discussion,” a panel discussion with six experts in Alzheimer’s disease from around Northeastern Pa. will take place at 6 p.m. on March 27.  The session will discuss available services, care needs and options for those working in the field or dealing the disease personally.

(http://www.wilkes.edu/pages/194.asp?item=66271)

Stanton hopes the presentations makes people more aware of the effects of the disease.

“It’s becoming a bigger topic today so it’s very important that those who may be affected by it are aware of it because sooner or later each person is going to have some connection to it,” Stanton said

Gaspar said awareness of the disease will help her family members prepare for the disease, particularly her father, who she said doctors tell her would be most at risk.

“It’ll prepare us for my dad, who they say is most likely to get it, we’re looking at the way he acts as he gets older to see if he has any of the symptoms that she experienced and maybe get him on that medication that prevents it,” Gaspar said.