Survey finds 1 in 7 Kentuckians over 44 say they have worsening confusion or memory loss; few say they get needed help

Worsening memory loss reported by Kentuckians in a survey could be indicative of a future Alzheimer’s or dementia public health crisis, according to a press release from the Alzheimer’s Association.

A first-time survey about memory loss shows that 14.1 percent of Kentuckians aged 45 and older report that they have confusion or memory loss that has become more frequent or gotten worse over the last 12 months. In the 21 states that participated in the study, the average was 12.5 percent.

The survey indicated a gap between need and care. Nearly 61 percent of Kentuckians who reported worsening memory problems said  they need assistance, but only 10.3 percent report getting help. And 25 percent of Kentuckians who reported worsening memory loss live alone.

“The data are indicative of a public-health crisis coming to our region,” Teri Shirk, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana, said in the release.

The report was compiled from data gathered for the first time in the Cognitive Decline Module, part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012.

Of those Kentuckians who reported memory loss in the survey, 75 percent of them haven’t talked to their doctor about it. This is a problem, Shirk said in the release.

“Although the data do not indicate the respondents are cognitively impaired, worsening memory problems are often one of the first warning signs of Alzheimer’s or another dementia,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 67,000 Kentuckians have the disease and estimates this number will climb to 86,000 by 2025.

Of those Kentuckians who reported memory loss, 47 percent said it had interfered with household activities, work or social activities, compared to 40 percent of respondents across the 21 states.

“More than 80 percent have at least one other chronic condition, and many – especially in Kentucky – report conditions or behaviors that we know correlate with Alzheimer’s,” Shirk said. For example, more than 31 percent of Kentucky survey respondents reporting memory issues are smokers, and more than 61 percent say they are in fair or poor health, according to the survey.

“Dementia is absolutely not a normal part of aging,” said Shirk. “And worsening memory loss or confusion does not necessarily mean you have Alzheimer’s disease. If the issue is caused by medication, head trauma or other factors, it may be reversible. But if you do have Alzheimer’s, finding out early means you may be able to begin medications that tend to be more effective in the early stages, and it also gives you the opportunity to participate in planning for your future with the disease … where you will live, how your funds will be used and who will care for you as the disease progresses.”

For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association, click here. For more information about the annual fundraising Walks to End Alzheimer’s, held in September and October each year, click here.

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