HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Alzheimer's disease is harsh. It steals the mind of the person diagnosed and joy from their caregivers. And it's claiming lives at an alarming rate, increasing 55 percent from 1999 to 2014.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Counties with the highest death rates were primarily in the southeast. In their own way, there are many people already working to respond this rising need.
As people age and some start to decline mentally and physically, they'll need long-term care. Registered Nurse, Carress Wilson, believes it's their right.
"They deserve to be treated with respect," says Wilson.
Wilson's grandmother lives with dementia.
"She's always been a big part of our lives and when she started going downhill with her dementia, it was just a big eye opener," describes Wilson.
It opened her eyes and heart and led to the creation of a 501c3 organization called HoME, Inc. Knowing that everyone isn't emotionally or physically able to care for a loved one, Wilson's dream is to do it for them.
"I would love to have my own facility, where it's one on one, personalized and individualized care," says Wilson. "I want to take care of them and make them feel like they can be comfortable in their surroundings like they're at home."
John Allen lost his mother to Alzheimer's disease. Its effects became blatantly clear on Christmas Eve in 2010.
"That night we were opening presents and she looked over at my wife and asked her who I was," recalls Allen, who currently serves as the CEO of the Huntsville Committee of 100.
Allen says his mother declined quickly in less than two years. During her journey, he noticed something.
"My experience with my mom in certain healthcare settings and healthcare providers was one of lack of understanding and lack of comprehension and empathy toward an individual that had a dementia related illness," describes Allen.
That experience led to a conversation with leaders at Madison Hospital and the eventual creation of a pilot program called "Forget Me Not".
Dementia patients get special wrist bands, a comfort pillow and magnet for their door. The hospital staff receives specialized training.
"We initiated the program around June of last year and we've sent around 40 to 50 percent of our staff through," says RN Jenifer Hagovsky.
As the Coordinator of Clinical Excellence at Madison Hospital, Hagovsky oversees the training, which is comprehensive.
"Anyone that could possibly enter a patient's room would be included in the training," explains Hagovsky. "That's imaging techs, someone that might come in to do an X-ray, people who are delivering the food trays into the room or even the people that come in to clean our rooms."
They're aiming even higher. Hagovsky says their goal is for 100 percent of the staff to receive the training.
All of these people are working together to be responsive now and proactive for the future. Madison Hospital is the first in the area to receive the Alzheimer's friendly certification through Home Instead. Leaders hope the program continues to expand to other hospitals in north Alabama.
There's no known cause or cure for Alzcheimer's disease. However, but WHNT News 19 did speak to a neurologist at Huntsville Hospital, Dr. Anjaneyulu Alapati, who offered these suggestions about things you can do to delay the onset of memory problems:
- Engage in regular aerobic exercises.
- Maintain a diet rich in leafy vegetables, fish and nuts.
- Do memory exercises like word puzzles.
- Challenge your brain with new information every day.
- Avoid the risk factors for stroke, which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Don't smoke.