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"The Longest Goodbye": June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month

More than 600,000 people in North Carolina are living with Alzheimer's or caring for someone who is. (Ann Gordon/flickr.com)
More than 600,000 people in North Carolina are living with Alzheimer's or caring for someone who is. (Ann Gordon/flickr.com)
June 14, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As many as 600,000 North Carolinians are living with Alzheimer's, or caring for someone who is, but advocates say it's been at least 10 years since a new drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and released for public use.

June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, and advocates are underscoring the importance of advancing the treatment of the disease.

Katherine Lambert, president and CEO with the Alzheimer's Association - Western Carolina Chapter, says the illness shouldn't be accepted as an inevitable part of getting older.

"Alzheimer's disease is not normal aging," says Lambert. "It is a fatal and progressive disease, and what makes it very unique, it's the sixth leading cause of death, both in North Carolina and the United States, but the only disease in that top 10 that has no way to slow progression, no effective treatments, and no cures."

Lambert says research indicates if a drug is developed that will help prevent or delay symptoms of the disease, the number of people living with it would be decreased by half.

Three drugs are currently in phase 3 of clinical trials, and four medications are available now.

Lambert says every person living with Alzheimer's is surrounded by at least four people who help them live with the disease. According to her organization, caring for people with the illness costs upwards of $250 million annually, and millions more in unpaid care by family and friends.

She says there's a reason First Lady Nancy Reagan called it the "longest goodbye."

"It's a disease unlike any other in that the impact on not just the individual living with the disease, but the care partners, caregivers, and their lives as well. It's a very difficult progression."

Warning signs include memory loss, disorientation, struggling to complete familiar actions, poor judgment and mood swings. Ways to head off Alzheimer's include eating healthy, getting regular exercise, engaging your brain and staying socially connected.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC