Barbara Lewis knows first-hand the toll diseases and brain conditions can take — and the purpose one can derive from tackling the devastating disease.
Early in life one of her family members was diagnosed with vascular dementia
“I was one of only a few people able to communicate with her,” Lewis said.
In later years, while studying to become a nurse she completed one of her clinical assignments at a memory care facility.
“I knew what I wanted to do with my career,” she said.
Lewis is chair for the local (North Olympic Peninsula) 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s, set for Sept. 18, in Port Townsend.
Details are still being finalized, but the event invites all who share an interest in helping battle the disease by raising funds for the national Alzheimer’s Association are invited.
That shouldn’t be hard to find plenty of people on the peninsula with a close connection to someone dealing with Alzheimer’s or some sort of dementia, said Lewis, now an administrator who’s based at San Juan Villa Memory Care Facility in Port Townsend.
“Everyone I talk to has some sort of connection,” Lewis said.
Numbers nationally and statewide art startling, she noted in an interview in Sequim last week: more than six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, with numbers in Washington state expected to increase from 120,000 in 2020 to 140,000 by 2025.
The disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
The COVID pandemic only worsened the situation, she noted: nationally, there was a 16 percent jump in fatalities during 2020.
“It’s probably because of … isolation,” Lewis said.
Lewis and local homecare consultant Pam Scott are helping raise funds this year for a live event, one year removed from the 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s that was forced to go virtual.
Scott said the event tries to be upbeat, with teams participating by wearing fun, colorful clothes and specially-made T-shirts, often in support of someone they know affected by Alzheimer’s.
“The walk can be kind of bittersweet,” Lewis said, but people getting together — health mandates will dictate how exactly the event will be formed and whether participants will need to wear masks — seems to fuel good spirits.
“People need to share their stories; it’s therapeutic,” Lewis said.
Registration is open now at tinyurl.com/NOPalzWalk. Register a team and raise $100 gets participants a T-shirt and “ENDALZ” hat.
Funds help the national organization with education, 24/7 helpline and other services.
Alzheimer’s, up close
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out simple tasks.
Scott, who works at PNW Kapuna Care in Sequim, said a common view from people she talks with at community events and presentations is something to the effect of, ““I’d rather have cancer than lose my mind.’”
Said Lewis, “The word Alzheimer’s still has a stigma attached to it. It’s gotten better in the past ten years.
“I think it’s harder on a person’a family than the people (afflicted) themselves.”
While there isn’t a cure, Lewis notes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a drug (Aduhelm/aducanumab) that showed significant dose-and time-dependent reduction of a specific plaque in the brain to slow the disease, leading the FDA to accelerate the drug’s approval in early June.
“It’s not a cure, but it’s close,” Lewis said.
She said it’s key to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other dementias early, to get the best treatment possible. The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 warning signs, possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other dementia:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
• Challenges in planning or solving problems
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks
• Confusion with time or place
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
• New problems with words in speaking or writing
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
• Decreased or poor judgment
• Withdrawal from work or social activities
• Changes in mood and personality
“Forgetfulness is common; (this disease means) you don’t know where you are, you’re not able to pay bills … (or you) forget words for common objects,” Lewis said.
“Sometimes it’s a symptom of something else.”
Scott said local Walk to End Alzheimer’s representatives will be at the Sequim Farmers & Artisans Market’s community booth on July 24 and Aug. 21 to help answer any questions.
We’d love for them to come down to the booth or call,” Scott said.
Teams can be formed in different communities and still participate, as others have done in past years, Scott said. And people can donate online if they are unable to participate in person.
Local Alzheimer’s advocates hope to raise at least $19,000 with the 2021 event.
For more about the 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s, call 206-529-3861 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s
What: Fundriaser for Alzheimer’s Association
When: Saturday, Sept. 18 (time TBA)
Where: Downtown Port Townsend (specific location TBA)
Alzheimer’s, by the numbers
• National statistics
1 — One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia
6 million — Americans living with the disease
11 million — People nationwide providing unpaid care for Alzheimer’s and other dementias
145 — Percent jump in deaths related to Alzheimer’s between 2000-2019 (in that same time from heart disease deaths dropped by 7.3 percent)
355 billion — Dollars that Alzheimer’s disease will cost the nation in associated costs (as of 2020), a figure that’s estimated to jump to $1.1 trillion by 2050
• Washington state statistics
20 — Percent of people in hospice have a primary diagnosis of dementia (as of 2017)
3,585 — Number of Washingtonians who died from Alzheimer’s (in 2019)
22,949 — Dollars in per capita spending on individuals with dementia (as of 2020)
120,000 — Number of Washingtonians affected as of 2020, a number expected to jump to 140,000 by 2025
295,000 — Caregivers in the state, who contributed 426 million hours of unpaid care valued at $9.6 billion
547 million — Dollars in Medicaid expense to care for people with Alzheimer’s
Source — Alzheimer’s Association (see alz.org)