As Georgia's population ages, the impact that Alzheimer's disease has on the lives of patients and caregivers is growing. More than 150,000 Georgians age 65 and over are living with Alzheimer's disease right now, and this number is expected to increase to 190,000 by 2025, according to Jill Disney, senior director of programs and services at the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
The state-wide chapter, which is based in Atlanta, has seven offices throughout Georgia. Although the offices provide broad coverage of the state, you don't have to drive to an office to receive help. "It doesn't take an office to access our services - you can access them anywhere," Disney said, because connections are also made through the phone and Internet.
Since June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month, the chapter is highlighting its efforts to help patients as well as caregivers. "Our mission is a lofty one - it's to eliminate Alzheimer's disease," Disney said.
The Georgia chapter is under the umbrella of the national Alzheimer's Association. This gives the Georgia organization the best of both worlds since it's able to leverage the nationwide network and also engage the local community and have an impact throughout the state and its communities, Disney explained.
One way in which the organization provides assistance is through a helpline that's accessible 24/7. This is important because nighttime may be the only time a caregiver is able to call.
The helpline can be invaluable for a patient or caregiver who is faced with a diagnosis and may not know where to turn or what steps to take. By phoning 800-272-3900, callers receive free access to live help. The line is staffed by master's level clinicians and specialists who are highly trained to answer questions and provide information. Confidential support is also offered in over 200 languages through a translation service.
By calling the helpline, anyone can receive information on local resources in their community, help in creating a care plan, information about clinical trials that they may be a good match for and much more.
The helpline provides an unbiased resource that can walk callers through the decision-making process since the organization doesn't have a financial relationship with any facilities, Disney said. If callers are looking for a care facility, they'll receive options that meet their criteria. "We don't recommend XYZ facility," she pointed out.
The state Alzheimer's Association chapter also offers in-person support in a variety of ways. "Here in the community, we offer a number of face-to-face support groups," Disney said. Caregivers can have access to a social network and get information from others who have walked the walk.
Unique programs are also offered, such as Musings at the High Museum. This partnership gives local residents who have early stage Alzheimer's or dementia, along with their caregivers, tours of the High Museum of Art.
Education is also key to the chapter's mission as it works to raise concern and awareness. The chapter offers specific information about the disease, including the fact that it's not a normal part of aging. Care partners are given information about how to understand behaviors related to Alzheimer's and how to best communicate with patients.
"In some way, every Georgian needs that information," Disney noted.
The Georgia chapter relies on many volunteers, such as community educators. They serve throughout the state after training and it's a role that appeals to nurses who are either currently working or are retired. To help make it easier to connect volunteers to opportunities in their communities, the organization has recently launched a new website - volunteer.alz.org.
The Georgia chapter is also participating in The Longest Day on June 21 and encouraging people to design their own fundraisers. Disney said participants have ranged from pickleball players to an Alpharetta band festival to an Atlanta bridge club. The idea is to share something you do and turn it into a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association.
"All of those events that happen across the state are really volunteer-powered. We wouldn't be able to do it without volunteers," she said.
Another function of the Alzheimer's Association is carried out through its sister organization, Alzheimer's Impact Movement (AIM), which performs public policy work at the local, state and federal levels. This can include ensuring that there's funding at the state level for people who prefer home health care when they're at the end of their lives.
The organization also works with doctors to encourage screening and assessments for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Some forms of dementia are due to treatable causes, such as infection or depression, so a proper diagnosis is important for these non-Alzheimer's forms of dementia. In addition, the chapter shares with doctors the support that the organization can provide for patients. With the patients' permission, doctors can provide the Alzheimer's Association with patients' information if they're interested in being contacted.