Guest Columnist

Alzheimer's Association: Thousands of Iowans impacted by dementia

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

(Piyapong Thongcharoen/Dreamstime/TNS)
(Piyapong Thongcharoen/Dreamstime/TNS)

Throughout 2020, the Alzheimer’s Association has had to learn and make changes due to the countless challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, all while still keeping our mission to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia at the forefront of our work. The financial impact of the pandemic has required us to be more creative about the ways in which we raise necessary funds.

Now more than ever, the dollars raised to fund research, programs and resources for Iowans affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia are vital. In Iowa, there are more than 66,000 people living with the disease and 136,000 caregivers.

While the pandemic is affecting the lives of all Americans, it is hitting individuals and families impacted Alzheimer’s and dementia particularly hard. Though Alzheimer’s and dementia does not increase the risk of COVID-19, dementia-related behaviors, increased age and chronic health conditions may increase risk. For those individuals living at home, a reduction in outside care and support, like adult day services, home health care and reduced help from family and friends has put more pressure on caregivers and families than ever.

Many with Alzheimer’s live in long-term care facilities, and the social isolation they face due to social distancing measures can lead to a rapid decline in health. Unfortunately, in Iowa almost 50 percent of deaths from COVID-19 have come from long-term care facilities, which is nearly 10% above the national average, and there has been a 13.9 percent increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since May, the Alzheimer’s Association has been calling for long-term care policy recommendations, including the need for rapid testing to ensure COVID-19 does not spread in these settings. Although access to testing has increased in Iowa, a lack of access to rapid testing equipment and supplies has made it difficult for long-term care facilities to reopen safely to family members. Our advocates have raised their voices to ask Iowa lawmakers to help keep our loved ones in long-term care safe, and you can join this fight by visiting alzimpact.org.

The Alzheimer’s Association has always been committed to providing free resources and support to Iowans affected by the disease. Since the onset of the pandemic in March, the Alzheimer’s Association has been offering all education and support programs virtually. By going virtual, these programs are now available to Iowans who may not have had a program in their area before or weren’t able to leave their loved one at home to go to these meetings. Our support groups, care consultations and education programs are more important now than ever as they provide much needed support for caregivers facing challenges keeping their loved ones safe and healthy during this time. For just $100, you can fund a family’s care consultation, and for $50 you can help fund a community education program.

Like many others this year, we’ve had to re-imagine the way we carry out events. The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is our largest event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and across the nation. This year, the Walk was everywhere, and our proud supporters helped turn every sidewalk, trail and neighborhood across the Corridor area purple all while raising critical donations. Though the Walk day was held in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City earlier this fall, our Walk season isn’t over yet, and donations can still be made to our dedicated Walk teams by visiting alz.org/Walk.

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Though we’re uncertain when the COVID-19 crisis will end or when we’ll be able to meet with our volunteers, supporters and constituents in person again, we do know that we will keep fighting every day to end Alzheimer’s and dementia — in Iowa and beyond. It’s not a matter of if, but when, and with your support that ‘when’ will be sooner than ever. Please visit alz.org/iowa for more information and to donate.

Lauren Livingston is communications director for the Alzheimer’s Association.

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