Alzheimer’s group here to help

A group of local philanthropists hoping to bring awareness to the growing problem of Alzheimer’s disease want Southeast Texans to know there is a place to turn for help.During a private dinner hosted by Jon Reaud and Linda Domino to raise money for the Southeast Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Dr. Mark Kunik, an authority in the field of Alzheimer’s study and the program chief for quality care at the Michael DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, explained how Alzheimer’s isn’t getting the attention or financial funding other diseases are getting, yet more and more people are suffering from it.

“Unfortunately, I think it is every 69 seconds in the United States, a new person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” Reaud said. “One out of three baby boomers will die with Alzheimer’s. I didn’t realize the depth of Alzheimer’s.”

Reaud said he has seen the effects of Alzheimer’s firsthand and knows what families are going through when they are dealing with a loved one who is suffering. He said that was the reason for the fundraiser and why he asked two experts to come and talk to an influential group of people who can help bring awareness to the growing problem.Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, Kunik said.

“Dementia is a problem with memory but it is not just a memory problem,” he said. “There has to be something else going on with your thinking. Oftentimes, it is not just the cognitive problems but also behavioral issues that come along with it.

“Dementia is a large umbrella. Then when you look at the different types of dementia, that is when you start talking about Alzheimer’s dementia.”

Kunik explained there are several types of dementia including dementia related to stroke, Parkinson’s disease or alcoholism. But it is Alzheimer’s that is the most severe.“This is not normal aging,” he said. “It is not normal for people to have this amount of memory loss and cognitive problems. It is normal to occasionally forget something or taking a little bit longer to learn new things. Anything more than that and we really start wondering whether it is a dementia.

“When you learn the different types of dementia then it helps you understand better. There are more similarities than there are differences but it helps to have knowledge. And the medications are mostly designed for Alzheimer’s dementia and we don’t know the effects they have on other forms of dementia, so that is why it is important to learn more about the types of dementia someone is dealing with.”

Kunik said it is important to diagnose the disease early because family members need to know how to take care of the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. He said families also need to be aware of people trying to take advantage of Alzheimer’s patients because they are easily victimized through financial exploitation.

Also on hand was Richard Elbein, chief executive officer for the Alzheimer’s Association in Houston and Southeast Texas, who wanted to educate the public about services that are available locally for those who have loved ones suffering from the debilitating disease.

“There really is an Alzheimer’s Association presence in Southeast Texas. I have heard from several of you that did not realize we existed, and I am sorry about that. We will correct it. Part of the problem is that more than 50 percent of people who develop Alzheimer’s are never given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, so it is not likely that people who are told they have a touch of dementia, senility or a little memory loss, if you Google any of those, you don’t find the Alzheimer’s Association. You have to Google Alzheimer’s to find us. So one of our challenges is to help our health-care professionals to say the word Alzheimer’s out loud.

“The biggest problem we have is lack of funding. The federal government funds from the National Institute of Health, only about 1.5 percent of their budget goes to Alzheimer’s. Cancer, heart disease and stroke are about 10 times that amount and the impact is that over the last decade, while the death rates for those diseases has dropped, the death rate from Alzheimer’s has increased 66 percent. And that is because of a lack of funding and research.”

Elbein said another problem is finding people who will undergo clinical trials, so the Alzheimer’s Association has developed a program to match individuals with trial programs in order to find ways to treat the disease. He said anyone who wants to know more about the association and fighting back against Alzheimer’s can call him and get involved.The association covers 37 counties and is based in Houston, where Elbein can be reached at (713) 314-1333. He said the local help line number for the association in Beaumont is (409) 833-1613.

Domino said her goal is to get the word out about the association and bring awareness in order to find help for those who need it locally.

“I was very happy to co-host this but I have to give credit where it is due. Jon had the brainstorm to have this fabulous event because he wanted to do something special to bring awareness to this problem,” Domino said. “I also want to add my thank yous for your support of this endeavor and for your help in spreading the word that we have an Alzheimer’s Association here in Beaumont and we are going make sure that people are aware of it and that they can call for assistance – they are very willing to help.”