A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentuckians’ worsening memory issues
may signal looming ‘public health crisis’


If you are concerned that your memory is getting worse, it probably is.
 

Moreover, you have a lot of company, according to the first measure of cognitive decline in Kentucky and Indiana, released today by the Alzheimer’s Association.
 

And if you’ve never shared your concerns with a doctor, you are among the more than 75 percent of Kentuckians, and nearly 80 percent of Indiana residents, ages 45 and older who haven’t talked with a health care professional about their worsening confusion or memory issues. That needs to change, the association says.
 

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“The data are indicative of a public health crisis coming to our region as nearly one in seven residents over the age of 45 in Kentucky, and nearly one in nine in Indiana, may be early in the continuum of Alzheimer’s or another dementia,” said Teri Shirk, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
 

While 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, Shirk said.
 

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 167,000 residents from the two states currently have the disease, but “these data indicate we may be headed for a much bigger onslaught of Alzheimer’s, which is already the most expensive disease in America,” Shirk said.
 

The information released today is compiled from answers given by Kentucky and Indiana respondents who participated for the first time in the Cognitive Decline Module of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the world’s largest public health survey, in 2012. The grant to the states to pay for adding the 10 module questions to the BRFSS came from the local Alzheimer’s Association chapters (Greater Kentucky/Southern Indiana Chapter in the case of Kentucky; Greater Indiana Chapter in the case of Indiana), supported by the national Alzheimer’s Association through its Cooperative Agreement grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 

The data show that 14.1 percent of Kentuckians (248,205 persons) and 11.5 percent of Indiana residents (294,057 persons) aged 45 and older report that they are experiencing confusion or memory loss that has happened more often or has gotten worse over the last 12 months, compared to an average of 12.5 percent for data compiled from 21 participating states. Of Kentuckians experiencing these issues, 47 percent say the problems have interfered with household activities, work or social activities, compared to nearly 45 percent of Indiana respondents and 40 percent of respondents across the 21 states.
 

Not getting needed help
 

The new data also show that many residents who are experiencing memory issues are not telling their doctor; nor are they getting the assistance they think they may need from family and friends.
 

“The vast majority are not telling they’re doctors about their memory issues, so it could be that they’re not asking for help from friends or family members either, but the gap between need and care is huge in both states,” Shirk said. Of the nearly 61 percent of Kentuckians in the survey who report worsening memory problems and think they need assistance, only 10.3 percent report getting help. Indiana, 58.4 percent of those admitting memory issues report needing help, but only 6.7 percent say they receive it.
 

“The crisis is exacerbated by the fact that about a quarter of the residents who admitted they are struggling with increasing memory issues are living alone, 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.
 

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Early discussion critical
 

“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, click here.
 

From Alzheimer’s Association


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