By LAINE GRIFFIN
Daily News-Record 6/7/19
HARRISONBURG — The Alzheimer’s Association Central and Western Virginia Chapter held its 15th annual Alzheimer’s Research Education Program conference Thursday, with about 100 attendees.
Annie Marrs, the family services director of the Alzheimer’s Association, said normally the conference, which aligns with Alzheimer and Brain Awareness Month in June, focuses on direct caregivers, but this year it heavily revolved around research.
“Research includes global and national, pharmaceutical, lifestyle prevention changes and cultural implementations among other things,” Marrs said in an interview Thursday. “And as for the ‘doing,’ that includes caregiving and using technology use for counseling through Skype or other forms.”
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, according to a brochure. Its mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
The Central and Western Virginia Chapter includes 51 counties and cities in the area, including Blacksburg, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Danville, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Staunton and Waynesboro.
Marrs said 65-70% of the 100 attendees were in the home care and long-term care profession while 20-30% were family caregivers. The remaining people were those with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis or statewide providers.
Dr. Rebecca Edelmayer is the director of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association and was the keynote speaker at the event.
In an interview following her talk, Edelmayer said her focus at the conference was in the areas of research to detect the disease through more of a combination approach of life intervention and medicine.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people think Alzheimer’s comes through normal aging, but it’s not normal aging,” she said. “Age happens to be the biggest risk factor, but there are other factors, such as traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease ... hypertension, diabetes, diet and smoking.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s statistics, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, which is more than breast cancer
and prostate cancer combined, according to data from the association.
Edelmayer said education is power for people. She said it’s important to make sure people are informed of the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association, “that we are here to help those living with the disease while also working on treatments for the future and helping people understand the importance of brain health.”
Annette Clark, family services director with the Alzheimer’s Association, spoke about dementia care practice and covered learning the evidence-based recommendations for how care should be delivered across all long-term care and community- based settings through a “person- centered care.”
She said when caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, “we always go to their reality. The issue they may be having is the only way for them to communicate with you.”
It’s also vital, according to Clark, to always treat those with dementia with dignity and respect.
Edelmayer said over the next few years, people will see evidence of new tools and discoveries coming to life around the world.
She said it matters to recognize treatments available, but it’s still important to continue the momentum of new discoveries by working with scientists around the world.
“The Alzheimer’s Association has some tools that could help people think about the ways they can be proactive with brain health,” she said, mentioning that the association has suggestions on “10 Ways to Love Your Brain.”
Some of the ways include sleep, diet and exercise.
To read the 10 ways, visit https://www.alz.org/helpsupport/brainhealth/10_ways_to_love_your_brain.
“It’s never too early or too late to start these practices,” Edelmayer said. “We have the tools now to decrease the risk of cognitive decline in the future.”