Life at DHG Podcast Series

Episode 62: Partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association

At DHG, we’re currently celebrating our annual Month of Giving. This fall our team members voted to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association for the next 12 months. Joining us today from the Alzheimer’s Association is Ruth Drew, the Director of Information and Support Services. Ruth oversees nationwide efforts to enhance care and support for all of those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.


Episode 62 Transcript:

 AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison, your host, and I love this venue because we get to hear the things that matter the most to us: flexibility, careers, and of course, stories about our people.

At DHG, we’re currently celebrating our annual Month of Giving. It’s November, and we all have gratitude on our heart. Earlier this fall, our team members voted to partner with the Alzheimer’s Association for the next 12 months, and we are just thrilled to have this partnership and are kicking it off with our annual Month of Giving and a matching funds drive.

So I thought it would be appropriate to learn a little bit more about what the Alzheimer’s Association does. Joining me today is Ruth Drew. She is the Director of Information and Support Services, and she oversees nationwide efforts to enhance care and support for all of those affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Welcome, Ruth.

RD: Thank you so much for having me.

AGH: So this is an education process for everyone including myself. Let’s begin with the basics; can you explain to me what Alzheimer’s is and who is affected by the disease?

RD: Absolutely. Alzheimer’s disease is a dementia disease, it’s a fatal, progressive disease of the brain that kills nerve cells and tissues and affects the person’s ability to remember, to think, to problem solve, plan, and ultimately to function. It’s the leading cause of dementia and there are an estimated 50 to 80% of dementia cases are attributed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Age is the greatest known risk factor, but Alzheimer’s is not normal aging. They are about 5.7 million Americans dealing with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death; it’s the only one in the top 10 that does not have an effective treatment to prevent it, slow it down, or cure it.

AGH: Wow. When you say “aging”, what is considered aging? You know, what age would one expect to begin to see this?

RD: Well, we know that Alzheimer’s, the disease process itself begins occurring in the brain long before – sometimes 10 or more years before a person would show any symptoms. It’s very rare for a person to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease before age 65. But there are cases where people in their late 40’s, 50’s or early 60’s do get what we call a younger onset Alzheimer’s.

Over 90% of Alzheimer’s cases are in people 65 and older. The older the person gets the higher the risk factor of Alzheimer’s. Of course the higher are risk factor of any number of other diseases as well.

AGH: Wow, that’s very interesting. As I mentioned, you know, we’re excited about this partnership but to help educate our people, what does the association do and where do these dollars go that we’ll be giving?

RD: Well, the fund raising dollars go to support research, to support care, and support across the country and in each local community. So, we talked about the fact that there’s more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s and more than 16 million family members and friends serving as caregivers. But to give some local perspective, in North Carolina, there are 170,000 residents over age 55 living with Alzheimer’s and that number will increase by more than 23% by 2025 unless there are effective treatments.

The Alzheimer’s Association focuses on educating and raising awareness about the disease, driving research toward treatment and prevention and ultimately a cure, and then, advocating for the needs and rights of people affected and also, this is where my team gets involved, providing care and support for all of those facing Alzheimer’s disease.

We do that through our 77 chapters across the country that are providing education programs in communities and a network of support groups in communities across the country. As well as our 24/7 help line where we have masters-level counselors and social workers available around the clock to talk with families that are dealing with Alzheimer’s.

We also have a very robust website at ALZ.org where families can get so much information about caregiving, about the disease, about getting a diagnosis as well as an online community that you can find on our website where people can connect with other folks who are dealing with the same things that they are, and a community resource finder where people can simply plug in their zip code and then find education programs, support groups, or other resources, adult based services, home help – whatever they need in their area based on their zip codes.

AGH: Wow, that is a lot of resources because I can’t even imagine going down that journey and trying to navigate to figure it all out. So, like I said, this is an education process for me and probably for a lot of people. What’s something that people may not know about this disease?

RD: So I think some people think that Alzheimer’s disease is normal aging and of course it is not. It is a disease process. Some people think of Alzheimer’s disease based on what they may have seen in a nursing home or in a hospice where they’re thinking about people at the very end of life and certainly that is part of Alzheimer’s disease but people often live with Alzheimer’s disease at an average of four, six, eight years.

Some even as long as 20 years and there are a lot of people who are living in the early stages or moderate stages where they need some help with something but they are also able to do a lot, and I don’t think that we all think of Alzheimer’s as running the full span of early, middle, and late stage.

AGH: That is a great point. So I read recently that exercise is a great preventative measure. I have been sharing this with you when we did our pre-call. I’ve been encouraging my own husband that he needs to exercise more and that I read an article recently, and it talked about 30 minutes a day. That’s all it takes as one of the things that we can do to help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. Can you give us a few others that what we can do to avoid this disease?

RD: Absolutely and part of our mission is talk to people about age with a healthy brain. Unfortunately, the science is not robust enough to say categorically that Alzheimer’s can be prevented yet. But we do know that there are a lot of lifestyle factors that play a role and by adopting healthy habits, we can reduce our risk of cognitive decline, and we can contribute to our overall brain health as we age.

So, staying mentally active, being a lifelong learner and engaging in regular physical exercise as well as eating a healthy diet benefits, you know, you get benefits from the neck up or from the neck down. So sometimes they’ll say, “what’s good for the heart is good for the head.” If you adopt heart healthy practices like a Mediterranean diet, eating lots of cruciferous vegetables and fruits and whole grains and lean meats, those kinds of things.

As well as engaging in vigorous regular physical activity, staying connected with the community and being a lifelong learner, someone who is interested in learning new things and challenging your brain in new ways, then those are great ways to give your brain the best chance of aging in a healthy way and I will also say, because sometimes we forget about this, there are lots of practical things that we can do to help improve it.

Brain injury as well such as wearing helmets when we bike or ski, wearing your seatbelts anytime we are in a car –  all of those kinds of things help prevent brain, injury which makes us more vulnerable to other brain diseases.

AGH: This is really great information and for our DHG people it sounds like all of the practices that we learned in Energy for Life in terms of physical movement, body, and what we are eating, all of those are great preventative things for lots of diseases. But today, we are talking about Alzheimer’s.

RD: Right, yes. You get a two for one.

AGH: Yes, the healthy lifestyle really is key to a lot of things. Before we conclude, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us as we gear up for this yearlong partnership with Alzheimer’s Association?

RD: Absolutely, anybody who has had their life touched by Alzheimer’s knows that this disease has an enormous impact on a family. The caregiving continues to increase and get more and more intense until a person needs care 24 hours a day. No one can do that alone; no one should and no one needs to. The Alzheimer’s Association is available; we’re in your community. We are available round the clock through our 24/7 help line.

That number is 1-800-272-3900 and our website has so much information. So many resources at ALZ.org. So we are here to help; all our services to families are free, and it is our pleasure to help the families that are going through this disease.

AGH: Oh that’s terrific. Ruth, thank you so much for being here with us today.

RD: My pleasure.

 AGH: We are thrilled to have this partnership, and as a reminder to all of our people, you can visit our DHG impact online giving site to give to the Alzheimer’s Association and through November, your donation will be matched so we can double our impact.

Thank you all for listening to Life at DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our Life Beyond Numbers. Join us next time for another edition of Life at DHG.