State harnesses support for initiative to address Alzheimer’s disease


Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association

Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Task Force

Sixty Plus at Piedmont

Alzheimer’s Association

24/7 Helpline: 1-800-272-3900

Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer and Dementia Caregiver Center

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving

10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as forgetting recently learned information and important dates; asking for the same information repeatedly; and an increased reliance on aids such as notes or electronic devices.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems. People may have trouble developing or following a plan or working with numbers. They may have difficulty concentrating or keeping track of monthly bills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to familiar places or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may also have a hard time understanding something if it is not happening immediately. They may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing. They may have trouble following or joining a conversation or stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue, or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  • Decreased or poor judgment with things such as dealing with money, such as giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities such as sports or hobbies.
  • Changes in mood and personality. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

The rich sound of “ ‘S Wonderful” wafts through George Dalman’s Fayetteville home as he plays his tenor saxophone, a gift from his wife.

He doesn’t miss a note.

But Dalman sometimes wonders whether the music will stop.

The 77-year-old musician and grandfather of four was recently diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

“Music is part of my inner life,” he said. “It runs through my veins. I have to play music every day. ”

If he lost the ability to play, “that would hurt, especially because I’ve seen it happen with other people and I’ve said, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to me.’ ”

The state General Assembly created a task force earlier this year that will help families such as Dalman's who are dealing dementia in a loved one. As baby boomers age, the number of people with diseases such as Alzheimer's is expected to soar, testing families' and facilities' abilities to deal with them.

An estimated 120,000 Georgians already are living with Alzheimer’s. Experts say Georgia can expect an additional 40,000 cases by 2025. The state’s initiative hopes to harness resources and raise awareness about forms of dementia to prepare.

Dalman’s wife of 49 years, MaryAnn, started noticing changes in his behavior a year or so ago. He would snap at her, something he never did.

He waited longer to brake before a stoplight, as if he suddenly noticed it was there. Give him directions, and two minutes later he would forget them. He got sidetracked easily. He once put a container of ice cream in the cabinet instead of the freezer.

“This was not my husband,” MaryAnn Dalman said.

The Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias State Plan Task Force hopes to improve dementia prevention, caregiver support and treatment. It is taking public comments throughout August to help develop its plan.

A public forum will be held at 1 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Georgia Department of Human Services, 2 Peachtree St. N.W.

“This is huge,” said Leslie H. Anderson, the president and CEO of the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “People are finally realizing this is not just their grandparents’ disease. It could be a disease that’s affecting their parents and even themselves.”

The task force, which is overseen by the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging Services, has more than 50 advisers, including clergy, researchers and experts in medicine, law enforcement and workforce management.

Cynthia Haley Dunn, the task force’s coordinator, called the group “Georgia’s answer to the national Alzheimer’s plan.” Alzheimer’s represents between 60 percent and 80 percent of dementia cases. By 2025, the number of people in Georgia with Alzheimer’s is expected to climb about 33 percent, which Dunn attributes to aging of the population, medical advances that are letting people live longer and the number of retirees moving to the state.

Georgians appear to want more adult day care and respite care options that may not be as readily available in rural areas. And there is also a need to recruit people into the long-term care workforce, she said.

Piedmont Atlanta and Piedmont Fayette hospitals have a program that helps older patients called the Sixty Plus at Piedmont. Social worker Moira Keller, who hosts a dementia support group, said that “dementia is considered an epidemic now.”

“Pretty much everyone has a neighbor or family member who has dementia” or a related disease, she said.

Dementia and related diseases are among the “most expensive diseases in the country,” said Dr. Monica W. Parker, an assistant professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Emory University. Those costs can be related to improper and prolonged hospitalizations, medication and demands on caregivers, expenses such as loss of time at work.

“The important thing is to make sure that primary care doctors are aware and trained on screening and resources to properly diagnose and treat their patients,” Parker said.

Dr. Alfonso Martinez, a neuropsychologist with The Neuropsychology Center in Peachtree City, diagnosed Dalman. He said family members often notice the changes before the affected person. He recognizes there is stigma attached to Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think people misunderstand Alzheimer’s,” he said. “They think it’s just people in nursing homes. But there is a broad spectrum of the disease. In the early stages, some people can manage their own affairs or drive a car.”

As for the Dalmans, they decided to tell family and close friends about George’s diagnosis. He’s on medication and life is moving along.

“I was honest with myself,” he said.

Some friends are uncomfortable when he talks about his illness. “I just told somebody recently that I have Alzheimer’s, and the expression on his face was like I had just dropped dead. I even said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” Dalman said. “You’d think I had leprosy.”

His wife just wants others to get tested if they notice changes in behavior, chronic memory loss or other cognitive changes in a loved one.

“It’s not always just getting old,” she said. “If you think there is something wrong, get help. It’s not a sin to have any disease.”