The following was submitted by Sheepshead Bay resident Jeanine Grimaldi, whose family wrestles with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease every day.

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans. Although this disease is most commonly known for its major symptom — memory loss — it comprises so much more. Typical Alzheimer’s patients feel disoriented, confused and, have drastic mood and behavior changes. They can often become suspicious of family members and friends and, during the later stages of the disease, have difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

These symptoms are caused by plaques and tangles, two different types of proteins that build up in the brain. Scientists do not fully understand this build-up but believe it plays a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells in the brain. We still have a long way to go in beating this disease, but we are heading in the right direction. On May 15, 2012, the Obama Administration released the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s in which the major goal is to effectively treat and prevent this disease by 2025.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are currently more than 320,000 people over the age of 65 in New York alone who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This number does not include the growing number of people in their 50s who have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Our state has an increasing number of baby boomers at risk for this disease as well as the mounting health care costs that are associated with it. As of 2011, there were more than 990,000 people in New York caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Many of these caregivers are family members of individuals living with Alzheimer’s who cannot afford, or are unable, to place their loved ones in a proper nursing home. Nationally, the total direct costs of caring for a patient with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia are an estimated to total $200 billion in 2012.

Alzheimer’s has become more commonly discussed in the public sphere thanks to figures such as Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt and singer Glen Campbell, both of whom have been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and have spoken out about fighting the disease. The New York Times launched a series of articles in the past few years called “The Vanishing Mind,” which documents the worldwide struggle with the disease. One of the more impactful articles focuses on an extended family in Colombia, many of whom carry a rare gene, which causes Alzheimer’s, some showing symptoms in their 40s and 50s.

Here in Brooklyn we are playing a larger part in this conversation as well. The Fourth Annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s is being held September 23, 9:00 a.m., on the Coney Island Boardwalk. It is set to be our biggest walk yet. Last year’s walk saw more than 550 participants across 83 teams come out to raise more than $65,000 for Alzheimer’s. We hope to exceed that this year.

In a push to gain momentum prior to the walk, The Brooklyn volunteer committee is hosting the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Kick Off, tomorrow, August 28, at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street. Team captains, their teammates and anyone interested in participating in the walk are encouraged to come learn more about the day’s events.

Hope to see you at both events!

Jeanine A. Grimaldi, an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association for the Ninth District of New York City, is a writer, editor, and publishing professional. She blogs about her experiences at www.sundaykindoflovealz.tumblr.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @sundayloveALZ.

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  • Family caregiver

    Thank you for this public service post. I am the sole family caregiver for my mother who has lived with Alzheimer’s Disease for the past four years. As such,  I understand from first-hand experience the devastating impact this disease has on the afflicted and their families. Caring for loved one with Alzheimer’s is life-altering. It exacts a physical, financial, and emotional toll. Most people know little or nothing about this disease until it strikes a loved one. I, for one, was unprepared and ill-equipped for the new role I was about to assume. I hope that this post helps to raise public awareness of this horrible illness.

    • ES

      I hope so too. Blessings upon you and your mother in both your daily struggles with this dreadful disease.

      • Family caregiver

        Thank you very much for your concern. In two short sentences, you have shown more support than I have received from family and friends since mom’s diagnosis.

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  • Deje324

    Jeanine, This is a great article and very informative. You are a very talented writer.  We are very proud of you and will support you in the crusade against Alzheimer’s. xo Aunt Pat