Experts, caregivers gather in Tucson to fight Alzheimer's - Tucson News Now

Experts, caregivers gather in Tucson in fight against Alzheimer's

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Meeting of the Minds is a gathering of researchers, resources, caregivers and families on the front lines of the battle against a deadly disease.

Alzheimer's disease.

The 20th Annual Alzheimer's Education Conference in Tucson presented latest research and coping strategies for caregivers and families on Wednesday.

Alzheimer's is now believed to be the number three cause of death in the United States.

There are more than five million people living with the disease in this country.

30,000 of them are in Pima County.

One in three people will die of the disease.

Those numbers are expected to grow as the population ages.

Alzheimer's affects patients and everyone around them.

Everyone wants to know about research and where we are with Alzheimer's disease.

There's still no treatment or cure.

Some scientists are changing direction as they look for an answer.

Doctors say they still don't know, for a fact, what causes Alzheimer's and related dementia.

Most research on possible cures has focused on patients who already have symptoms, but it hasn't worked.

"So the field has wondered, maybe it's just too little too late--that when the disease has too much of a foothold, it's really not possible to get your arms around it at that point. So where we're going now kind of capitalizes on a lot of the discoveries that have been made over the past 20 to 30 years--genetic risk factors, being able to identify people at risk," says Dr. Richard Caselli, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.

The idea is to identify those people and develop treatments that attack the disease earlier, before symptoms appear.

Dr. Caselli says scientists want to capitalize on tests and scans "that are able to identify really the earliest stages of the disease before patients actually manifest symptoms of it. So, I'd say, at this point, given that we've made that turn, one can only hope that we can be optimistic that that will succeed where other attempts have failed."

Dr. Caselli was a presenter at the conference.

The Alzheimer's Association says there are many resources for both caregivers and families of Alzheimer's patients.

We watched some conference participants take, what's called, a virtual Alzheimer's tour.

It helps those who care for or love an Alzheimer's patient to better understand how patients feel, how they perceive the world.

"I'm still like sweating and shaky. It was horrifying. It was absolutely--there was noises. I couldn't understand what was going on," says Tucson social worker Brianna Henderson after she took the tour.

She says she knows what the textbooks say, but having that brief experience on the tour was very powerful.

However, it takes more than compassion and understanding to care for a patient, and that's where resources such as the Alzheimer's Association come in.

First step:  See a doctor to be sure it's not some other medical condition.

However, there are clues that it could be more than simple forgetfulness.

"Memory impairment that affects daily life, difficulty with visual, spatial relationships, difficulties planning, social withdrawal.  Simple tasks become more and more difficult--following recipes. Things like that," says Kelly Raach, Regional Director of the Alzheimer's Association Desert Southwest Chapter, Southern Arizona Region.

The best advice for caregivers in order to best help the patient?

Take care of yourself.

"That includes them going to the doctor, seeking support, making sure that they provide themselves time for respites and a chance to get away, and to seek out support. They don't have to do this alone. And that's the most important thing to do because you can't take care of someone with dementia if you don't take care of yourself first," Raach says.

The Alzheimer's Association Helpline is 1-800-272-3900.

Click here for the Alzheimer's Association Desert Southwest Chapter Southern Arizona Region.

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