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New Report Details Alzheimer's Toll on Alaska Women

By Abby Hancock, Reporter (Social Issues, Youth Issues, and 2 Your Health), ahancock@ktuu.com
Published On: Mar 19 2014 09:50:57 PM AKDT

According to a new report, Alzheimer's disease burdens women more than men, with women more likely to get the disease and also more likely to become a caregiver.

ANCHORAGE -

According to a new report, Alzheimer's disease burdens women more than men, with women more likely to get the disease and also more likely to become a caregiver.

The Alzheimer's Association report states a woman's risk of developing Alzheimer's at age 65 or older is one in six, compared to a man's odds of one in 11. Women in their sixties are twice as likely to have Alzheimer's than they are to develop breast cancer. There are also 2.5 times more women than men providing full-time care for someone living with Alzheimer's.

An estimated 6,000 Alaskans live with Alzheimer's or dementia -- a statistic that is expected to double by 2020. The increase is partly due to more awareness of the disease and Alaska's aging population, according to Lisa Wawrzonek with Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska.

"It's one of our state's biggest health care threats because in Alaska, our senior population is growing at four times the national average," Wawrzonek said.

Alaska also poses unique challenges. A lack of resources, especially in rural communities, can make the disease especially isolating for those it afflicts, and for those who care for them. Caregiving can be a stressful, full-time job.

"Alaskans have very independent spirits; sometimes asking for help is difficult," Wawrzonek said. "And a little bit of help can go a long way with this disease."

Ellie Brimanis, 83, questions her own Alzheimer's diagnosis -- but not the commitment made by caregivers.

"They have to change their lifestyle to suit the person they're caring for," Brimanis said.

Brimanis says she is fortunate because her grown children take care of her. She spends her days at Day Break Adult Day Services, where the majority of people are diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia.

"I like the group activities where we just get together, sit at tables, we play Scrabble or what have you. There's some very, very interesting people here," Brimanis said.

Day Break plans physically and mentally engaging activities like music, art, board games and exercise. There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but keeping the mind engaged can slow the disease's progression.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, one of the reasons more women are diagnosed is because they live longer. Age is the biggest risk factor, although a person could be at higher risk if it runs in their family.