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Alzheimer's caregiver education provides answers to needs

Alzheimer's disease has long been regarded as an affliction of the aging, those who are over the age of 65.

As more people are living longer, though, the number of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is growing. The disease does not discriminate -- an estimated 5.2 million Americans have been diagnosed and 24 million worldwide have some form of dementia. Every 71 seconds another person develops Alzheimer's.

While the first person diagnosed by Dr. Alois Alzheimer was a 51-year-old woman, the patient age range has broadened and doctors have identified someone with Alzheimer-like symptoms who is 27 years old, said Michael Massurin, director of programs and services for the Central New York chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

By the age of 85, people have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease.

"It attacks the brain and destroys it," Massurin said.

Typically the disease attacks the hippocampus, the part of the brain that allows accessibility to older memories, thereby causing an "inability to form new memories," Massurin said.

Many might wonder why a person with Alzheimer's can remember something that happened 40 years ago but not what they ate in the last day or who a close relative is.

"Long-term and important memories are written differently," Massurin said. "People with Alzheimer's are living in the past."

Eventually, as the disease progresses, it spreads throughout the entire brain and attacks the brain stem, what Massurin refers to as "autopilot."

"We're nowhere close to understanding the full capacity of the brain," he said.

Technology used to diagnose Alzheimer's has become more advanced over the years, but the disease is still incurable and as it progresses, those affected need someone to care for them.

Understanding what caregivers are dealing with, and knowing you're not alone, can reduce a lot of stress that comes with caring for a loved one who may not always remember who you are. To help others cope and to discuss individual situations, the Athenaeum of Skaneateles will be holding support groups at 3 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the facility on East Genesee Street.

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