"With the Baby Boomers now aging, it could grow into epidemic proportions. The potential is staggering."
That's how Cheryl Dunaway describes the threat of Alzheimer's disease.
Dunaway is the program director for the Colorado branch of the Alzheimer's Association. She will open a Grand Junction office Aug. 23 to provide services throughout six counties, including Moffat County. Western Slope coordinator Maria Williams will also provide chapter services to Rio Blanco, Garfield, Mesa Delta and Montrose Counties.
"The primary responsibility of the association is to provide help to care givers," Dunaway said. She explained that this is accomplished through educational programs, support groups and a phone help line.
"We provide information about things they'll need to know like how to prepare for future legal issues, etc." she said.
While Alzheimer's takes an obvious toll on its direct victims, it can also be extremely debilitating to family members who must care for those stricken with the disease.
"The boomers are becoming caregivers," she said. "They're already being crunched by professional responsibilities, trying to raise kids and put them through school, and now they must take on the stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer's."
The burdens and dangers of such stress are very real, according to Dunaway.
"The life-span for someone with Alzheimer's is 8-20 years," Dunaway said. "People giving 'round-the-clock care they really need a break.
"They become very worn out they can die before the person they're caring for."
The Alzheimer's Association can provide a break from the stresses of caregiving. The association can also provide useful information before things begin to get out of control. Identifying the problem early is critical according to Dunaway.
"There's a great ignorance in the general population of what's normal and what isn't," Dunaway said in reference to the aging process.
"Alzheimer's is typically not identified soon enough, and that can be dangerous. People with the disease shouldn't be allowed to drive, be home alone cooking or administering their own medication," she said.
Dunaway also said people may avoid facing the disease because there is a great deal of fear associated with it.
"There's also a stigma attached to it that's just not true," she added. "There's a perception that people with Alzheimer's are out of control and dangerous, but that's not the case."
She believes education and support are critical, and her organization provides both.
The opening of the Grand Junction office will be marked with a reception at St. Kathryn's Cellars in Palisade Aug. 23.
The opening of the Grand Junction office represents the final step in providing statewide service throughout Colorado's sixty-three counties.
The Alzheimer's Association is the largest voluntary national health organization dedicated to conquering Alzheimer's disease through research and to providing information and support to people with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders and their families.
To get information about the organization or the disease, call (800) 864-4404 or access their website at www.alz.org/rockymtn.