Health Secondary Story

Sue Ann Says: Educate Yourself About The Impact of Dementia

When my friend forgets her car keys, she jokingly says, “Old age!” and laughs it off. But where do the lines between forgetfulness and dementia cross? Back in October our WWHF Annual Dialogue event brought together Wisconsin doctors and health professionals in the field of dementia to share the complex issues related to dementia. Let’s look at the startling statistics of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States overall and the 5th leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. It is the only cause of death among the top 10 in America without a way to prevent it, cure it or even slow its progression. Deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010, while deaths from other major diseases decreased.

Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60% to 80% of all cases of dementia. In 2013, there were 42 million people with dementia in the United States. It is projected there will be 72 million people in 2029 with dementia, roughly 20% of our population. The cost of Alzheimer’s Disease is 203 billion dollars a year with a projected cost of 1.2 trillion in 2050.

Dementia is not just “an old person’s” disease. Pat Wilson, Family Support Coordinator from the

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin reports, “There are 200,000 people in the U.S. with young-onset Alzheimer’s and an estimated 640,000 people in the U.S. with young-onset dementia. While many of these people are between forty and fifty years of age, some are only in their thirties.”

What Are Your Chances of Developing Dementia?

Kari Paterson, the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association South Central Chapter reported, “The risk of being diagnosed with dementia is 1 out of 2 if you are over the age of 85. Half of the people in the United States with the disease do not know they have it so they do not have support services.”

Gina Green-Harris, Director of Milwaukee Outreach Program & Services Alzheimer’s Institute in Madison, WI, shared information from the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s Disease is more prevalent with estimates varying from 14% -100% more cases among African-Americans than Caucasian-Americans.”

Other factors at play in the development of dementia include your genetic background, major surgeries and previous head injuries.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dementia?

Dementia is defined as the decline in memory and a decline in at least one of the following cognitive abilities:

• Ability to speak coherently or understand spoken or written language.

• Ability to recognize or identify objects, assuming intact sensory function.

• Ability to perform motor activities, assuming intact motor abilities and sensory function and comprehension of the required task.

• Ability to think abstractly, make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks.

The decline in cognitive abilities must be severe enough to interfere with daily life.

The Effects on the Caregiver

Dr. Elizabeth Chapman from the Geriatrics Division at the UW Department of Medicine, explains A vast amount of caregiving costs are not documented because the caregiving is often given by family members. The financial impact on the caregiver may be reflected in loss of a job or a loss of job hours. Other impacts on the caregiver are physical stress, guilt, emotional stress, an increase in depression and poor physical health.”

Several professionals expanded upon this important aspect of dementia.

– Dr. Kurt Hansen from the Geriatrics Division of UW Madison indicated, “Our medical treatments don’t do much right now. We must support the family and help them cope with the disease.”

– Gina Green-Harris shared, “It is a family issue and we need to look at the people who are overburdened. Caregivers can’t clean and give care to a loved one at the same time. It must be a group effort.”

– Pat Wilson stated, “Find support in the community so that the caregiver has time to rest. Let’s get rid of the word “No” and help someone out who needs our support. “

What Can You Do Right Now to Prevent Dementia?

Kari Paterson, the executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association South Central Chapter, emphasized that “Heart Health=Brain Health.” “The triggers of Alzheimer’s Disease begin to damage the brain years before symptoms appear.” Here are her suggestions for a healthy heart and brain.

1. Exercise 

Exercise increases the number of neurotransmitters in your brain. You don’t have to work out for hours on end. Walk 5 times a week. Set goals and monitor your blood pressure.

2. Eat Right

Eat food rich in anti-oxidants such as berries and nuts along with plenty of dark green leafy vegetables. Get enough vitamin E and C. Diets low in saturated and trans-fats are desirable. The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of a healthy diet.

3. Increase Mental Stimulation 

Exercise your mind. Develop a system of reminders and cues. Take time to remember things. Learn relaxation techniques. Keep a positive attitude and your perspective.

4. Delay Retirement

In order to keep your brain healthy it is important that you keep socially and mentally active. It could mean delaying retirement.

Educate Yourself

I strongly suggest that if a loved one is showing any symptoms of dementia to have them visit their local health provider. Educate yourself on dementia facts and treatments by contacting theWisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (, theAlzheimer’s Association ( or the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin (

Because it all beings with a healthy woman…

Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit or call 1-800-448-5148.


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