Understanding Alzheimer’s and resources available in Fairbanks

A local agency advocates for those with Alzheimer's and Dementia - spreading awareness, and offering classes and resources.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 9:32 AM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - It’s a disease without a cure. Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia affects 1 in 3 seniors and results in the death of more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In the U.S. alone, there are roughly 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease with 3 million new cases diagnosed each year. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million.

One agency in Fairbanks is continuing to advocate for those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, spreading awareness and offering classes and resources.

Alzheimer’s is something not to be feared. More awareness around mild cognitive impairment, which can be an early stage of Alzheimer’s can bring more understanding to the disease.

But what is Alzheimer’s and how does it differ from Dementia?

“Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms, and there are over 100 kinds of dementia. Some are reversible, that is why I am always checking, did you go to your doctor and get blood work done,” said Education Outreach Specialist Joan Adams with the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska. She said it is the most common form because it primarily affects senior citizens.

Adams said the 5 most common types of dementia include, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Mixed Dementia, and the most common form of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease.

“The senior type or onset Alzheimer’s happens to people in their 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s,” she explained. “Now other kinds of dementia can happen to people at all different ages. You can have vascular dementia or multi-infarcts which are baby strokes that can happen in our sleep and we don’t even know about it.”

She said some of those things can happen when we age.

A big part of Adams’ job is outreach. She travels to areas around the Interior such as Tok and outlying villages north of Fairbanks to advocate for residents and educate others on the importance of care and awareness of the issue. She helps individuals and families answer questions and concerns regarding memory loss and she also helps those find available resources, and gives insight into some of the agency programs.

“So who do we serve, just about anybody who has concerns about mental health and brain health,” said Adams. “We have programs for those about memory issues and we also have programs for care partners.”

One benefit she says that came from the COVID-19 Pandemic was having to transition to online services. Because of this, the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska can reach more people. They have had opportunities to coordinate and conduct Zoom classes and help to give those in rural areas the tools to help those in their communities.

“So now we have classes that our whole team offers and anyone from around the state,” she explained. “I have had people from out of the state attend classes depending on the interest of the topic.”

As researchers continue to search to find more answers to this deadly disease, Adams says there are ways to keep your body and mind healthy as you age. Eating healthy nutritious foods and exercising your body and mind are ways to stay healthy.

“It’s kind of no-brainer stuff, but as we get older, it gets harder,” she said. “I have a love-hate relationship with my stairs but I know it’s good for my mental and physical health.”

Socialization is also an important part of staying healthy. Those with memory loss tend to isolate themselves, so it is also important to have resources and support available for care partners and families.

She noted the most important takeaway is helping those live happy life. Giving those with questions the tools to work through the challenges of the disease and helping individuals live their life with dignity and independence alongside their families and health providers.

Sometimes having those conversations with loved ones about their conditions can be difficult. She said a way to understand what they are going through is to get on their level to try and better understand why they are thinking the way they are. Not being able to reason with someone can be frustrating for both parties.

“If we can be with them where they are, in the time frame they are talking about what they want, even though a lot of the time it seems irrational to us, but It makes perfect sense to them,” said Adams. “So if we can be with them where they are, they are a lot happier because we are able to partner with them and work together with them because actually, they will work together with us for quite a long time if we allow them to do that.”

One myth she is trying to dispel is those with dementia are still able to do many things, but you have to let them, and encourage them to try.

More information and resources are available on the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska website.