A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Talk about Ebola virus causes ‘plague’ of Alzheimer’s to go unnoticed


“When leaving his surgery on the morning of April 16, Dr. Bernard Rieux felt something soft under his foot. It was a dead rat lying in the middle of the landing. The doctor kicked the varmint aside and reported the incident to the building manager. ‘There weren’t no rats here,’ was the indignant response.
 
“After that, the doctor headed home for the day. Arriving at his building and heading up the stairs to his apartment, he saw a big rat coming toward him, its fur sopping wet. The animal stopped and seemed to be trying to get its balance, moved forward again toward the doctor, halted again, then spun round on itself with a little squeal and fell on its side. Its mouth was slightly open and blood was spurting from it.”

 
 
So begins The Plague, a 1948 novel by Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus.
 
What happens next is a cautionary tale that begins with denial and finally gives way to acknowledging a deadly epidemic. The results include public panic, wholesale loss of life, disruption of economic systems, accusations about who caused the plague, arguments regarding treatment and cure, and a yearlong quarantine which was disrupted by occasional desperate attempts to escape.
 
As headlines and news reports whip up frenzy about the Ebola virus in the U.S., Camus’ story seems particularly timely. But we in America are already suffering from another epidemic that some describe as a “tsunami,” referring to the dramatic increase of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the U.S. as the Baby Boomers age.
 
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 69 seconds, and an estimated 5.4 million people are living with the disease. Family and friends provide about 17 billion hours of unpaid care annually to their stricken loved ones. A staggering 90 percent of all dementia care occurs at home with devastating impact on the well-being of everyone involved.
 
In our own community, which is known for its unfailingly generous spirit, there are caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia who encounter enormous challenges every day, often without moral support and encouraging words.
 
To fill that gap, the Senior Citizen Center in Murray has launched a support group for caregivers. They meet the third Thursday of every month from 10 to 11 a.m. at the center. Facilitated by Education Director Teri Cobb and volunteer Gerry Mellon, the group met for the first time last week.
 
With genuine affection and good humor, a guest speaker, known as caregiver G., referred to himself jokingly as a “working stiff.” His wife sat next to him, listening and smiling as he described their approach to dealing with her Alzheimer’s.
 
“We try to laugh and make jokes,” he said. “We hug each other. We say ‘I love you’ and enjoy what moments we can.”
 
He talked about making a presentation in front of another group and worrying about a negative response to his remarks on mental health and caregiving. Instead of the reaction he feared, however, G. reported that about 70 percent of the people came up afterward to share their own personal or family experiences.
 
“Everyone is going to deal with mental health issues or Alzheimer’s,” he said to the group he spoke to in Murray last week, and almost every head nodded in agreement.
 
For more information about the support group, contact Teri Cobb at the Senior Citizen Center, located at 607 Poplar, at the corner of 6th Street, in Murray. The phone number is 270-753- 0929, and the website is murrayseniorcenter.org.
 

For additional background on Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit alz.org.

 

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Constance Alexander is a faculty scholar in the Teacher Quality Institute at Murray State University. She is also a freelance writer.
 

To read more from Constance Alexander, click here.
 
 
 
 
 


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