What we don’t know about Alzheimer’s can harm us

March 9, 2023 6:00 am

Ricardo Flores suffers from Alzheimer’s. Photo courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association.

One of our Alzheimer’s Association staff members shared a story with me about her aunt who recently passed away. It is just one of the many we hear each week:

It wasn’t until Julia’s mother passed away that she and her sister realized the extent of their father’s cognitive decline.  

“We knew he was getting forgetful, but Mom took care of him, even as she was dealing with breast cancer. When Mom passed away, we saw how poor Dad’s condition really was. At night, he would ask where Mom was and why she wasn’t home.”  Julia said she and her sister had to remind him that their mother had passed away. One time, when their father was particularly agitated, Julia’s sister even showed him their mother’s obituary. Their father experienced the loss of his wife all over again. 

In the United States more than 6 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. In Minnesota alone, the number is 100,000. That number is expected to grow by 21% in the next two years. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and the one we hear about the most.

At the Alzheimer’s Association we believe that no one should go through an Alzheimer’s or dementia journey alone. We offer no-cost support and care programs to help individuals and their families, including a 24/7 helpline (800.272.3900), educational resources and support groups. 

Alzheimer’s disease affects everybody, but unfortunately these impacts are not felt equally. Some communities do not know enough about the disease — despite being disproportionately impacted by it. The numbers illustrate a harsh reality:

  • Two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Hispanic and Latino Americans are 1.5 times and Black Americans are two times more likely to develop the disease than their white counterparts.
  • Another large disparity can be seen in tribal communities — the National Indian Health Board has found that 1 out of 3 American Indian /Alaskan Natives over the age of 65 is likely to develop the disease. This is more than three times the national average.
  • Those who live in rural areas are more likely to experience dementia-related deaths. 

We know that the earlier a person is diagnosed with the disease, the more likely they are to have access to clinical trials and to promising treatments recently approved by the FDA that can delay progression of the disease — and give them more time with their families. We also know that underserved communities are less likely to receive an early diagnosis, less likely to be recruited to participate in a clinical trial, and more likely to encounter barriers in the health care system. 

It is time for us to build an infrastructure that supports all Minnesotans, and we believe that begins with creating awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is time for us to support families like Julia’s who may not realize the extent of a family member’s memory issues.

Please consider supporting SF1814 and its companion bill in the House, HF1852, which would create a public awareness campaign administered by the Minnesota Department of Health to reach underserved audiences to better illuminate dementia and Alzheimer’s. Authored by Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Mary Frances Clardy, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, this bill could not be more timely.

Our country is facing a public health crisis with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This disease is one of the costliest in America, totaling $321 billion. Alzheimer’s is not a partisan issue. And memory issues are not a normal part of aging.

It is time for us to tell that story.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Susan J. Parriott
Susan J. Parriott

Susan Parriott has served as the CEO of the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Alzheimer's Association since 2012. The association provides no-cost care and support services for individuals and their families impacted by dementia and Alzheimer's and is the largest non-profit funder of Alzheimer's research in the world.