Story by Emily Robertson
The Alzheimer’s Association began in 1980 to work toward the goal of a world without Alzheimer’s, but right now, there are more than 5 million Americans living with the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is defined as the most common type of dementia, a general term for loss of memory and abilities that disrupts daily life. Alzheimer’s erodes memory and behavior, with symptoms that develop slowly and worsen over time. Alzheimer’s disease develops most commonly in people over the age of 65, but approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association continually works toward a cure by advancing research; provides care and support for those affected by the disease; and reduces the risk of the disease by promoting brain health.
The Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association serves 125 counties, including Warren County. The chapter has three branch offices in Louisville, Lexington, and Evansville, as well as local committees of volunteers in many other locations, like Bowling Green, that help to coordinate local events. Of the 5 million Americans living with the disease, more than 90,000 of them live within the chapter’s service area.
Why is Alzheimer’s so detrimental to those living with the disease?
It is so devastating because not only do you lose the memory of people you love, but you lose yourself. Someone once described a bad day with Alzheimer’s as when you can’t recognize the person staring back at you in the mirror. From remembering how to drive to a familiar location, to forgetting how stand up from a chair, to being unable to find the right word—simple tasks we take for granted become a complete challenge.
What sort of treatment is available to those living with Alzheimer’s?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but there are a number of medicinal and non-medicinal treatments available that can help those currently living with the disease. Current treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, but it may lesson the symptoms of memory loss or confusion, for a period of time.
Those currently living with Alzheimer’s can take part in clinical studies that are testing new treatments to find a possible cure for the disease. These trials also provide insight into how the disease can actually be prevented in future generations.
What are your biggest events throughout the year?
Our Walk to End Alzheimer’s is one of our biggest events each year. We have 12 throughout the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana Chapter. The first walk in Bowling Green took place in 2009. For the walks, there is no registration fee, but participants are encouraged to sign up as an individual or team and raise money throughout the year. The actual walk takes place each fall. The Bowling Green Walk to End Alzheimer’s is scheduled for Saturday, September 9 at Circus Square Park.
A newer event that takes place each year is The Longest Day. On the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year—participants do an activity they love or that honors someone fighting Alzheimer’s, and raise money and awareness for the disease.
Locally in Bowling Green, the WKU chapter of FIJI Fraternity promotes the Bike4ALZ event. Each summer, fraternity brothers raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s by riding 3,600 miles across the country. To find out more about their event, go to www.bike4alz.org.
Who benefits the most from the Alzheimer’s Association?
The person battling Alzheimer’s definitely benefits from the work we do, but also their caregivers do as well. We strive to support caregivers and families because they are often the forgotten piece of the Alzheimer’s story. Through our organization, we provide support groups and educational programs for caregivers where they can learn how to provide the best care, as well as how they personally can cope.
Also, we believe the general public benefits greatly from the organization. We work to eliminate the stigma of the disease and help those who have been directly impacted by Alzheimer’s to understand that it is not something that needs to be associated with shame.
What sort of services do you provide?
We provide education programs for people combating the disease, as well as their caregivers, and we facilitate support groups. Nationally, we have a 24-hour helpline (800.272.3900) for people to call with questions or for support. We also work to advocate for federal and state policies to increase funding for continual research to help find a cure.
Tell us a bit about your Executive Director.
DeeAnna Esslinger joined the Alzheimer’s Association in March of 2004. Her background includes event management with the Kentucky Derby Festival, account management with MCI Telecommunications, and membership development with the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Louisville Chamber of Commerce.