Paul Kusuda’s column
Aging and accompanying Dementia
Paul H. Kusuda
racial-minority groups have unique needs that require special attention?  

Worries about the subject have increased considerably during the past few years, especially as the aged population has
grown, and caregiver needs receive more attention.  Many lapses in memory are quite common, and we often hear people
talk about “senior moments” when some thought is suddenly lost, like forgetting someone’s name, misplacing something,
or forgetting to include an item on a grocery-shopping list.  Those lapses are considered to be normal, and may occur to
anyone.  Alcoholics and misusers of some drugs, prescribed or not, may be afflicted with memory loss.  Some causes are
subtle and their ill-effects can be avoided or treated, for example, arterial disease, hardening of the arteries, calcification of
blood vessels, mini-strokes, andbrain concussions.

I’m not sure that Alzheimer’s Disease can be accurately diagnosed even though its certainty can be determined only after a
person’s brain has been studied after death; however, its risk can be reduced when a person follows suggestions that
have been offered.   Research in the field has been underway despite the obstacles confronting development of diagnostic
formulations. The brain being involved, health of the heart and arteries are important factors.  Prevention of cardiovascular
diseases is important since the disease attacks the brain.  That means high blood pressure must be controlled and
cholesterol counts watched.  Many physicians recommend daily doses of 81-milligram aspirin as a stroke-prevention
actlion.  Exercise is also recommended for improving blood circulation.  Of course, head injuries should be avoided. That is
of special concern for the elderly who are more prone to fall than those who are younger.  

Alzheimer’s Disease becomes a frightening specter as a person ages.  Some worry about how they or their children or
relatives will be able to help them deal with it when they begin to show signs of it.  Of course, everyone will not have to face
it, but suppose it happen?  Then, what?  Well, that’s another worry to be stuck with if one wants it.  As for me, I figure if it
happens, it happens, and there’s nothing I can do to avoid it.

A long-time acquaintance of mine, Mary Kay Baum, received the diagnosis of early onset Altzheimer’s when she was in her
late 50s.  She was appointed Executive Director of the Madison Area Urban Ministry after Ed Pfieffer retired.  She continued
the program and expanded it to meet community needs.  That followed years of public service and involvement in social
justice activities.  She was previously an elected member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors and of the Madison Area
Public School Board in addition to being an ordained minister.  The diagnosis led to her decision to retire from MUM.   A few
years later, she and I happened to be at a meeting of advocates for an improved health care plan for thestate.  I was glad to
talk about how she was doing and getting an update on her current activities.  She had just published a book about herself
and family.  

Mary Kay’s story is told in an article by Lisa Gaumnitz in the February 2017 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources.“In her
early 50s, Baum was falling a lot, struggling to find the right words and noticing subtle physical changes in her reflexes,
gait, grip and strength.  She worried that the early onset Alzheimer’s disease that had afflicted her mother and an aunt
would soon affect her.  Doctors’ original prognosis seemed to bear this out.

“She retired as executive director of Madison-area Urban Ministry…More testing over the years revealed that her cognitive
and physical changes were not due to Alzheimer’s disease after all but to an underlying epileptic syndrome.  Medicine and
lifestyle changes have successfully controlled the syndrome…”  She is now active at the Ridgeway Pine Relief Natural Area
By Paul H. Kusuda

Older Americans 2016:  Key Indicators of Well Being, a recent federal report, noted a projected
increase in the elderly population in this country in 2030 to be more than twice that in 2014—
growing from 35 million to 74 million.  A recently-published report by the Alzheimer’s
Association noted that more than five and-a-half million Americans with Alzheimer’s were living
in2017, and by 2050, that number could rise to be as high as 16 million, two thirds being
women.  About 200,000 under 65 years of agehad early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Those are
frightening figures for anyone who thinks about old age and has worries about finances, not
having to move because of age-related disabilities, etc.

For some reason, African Americans are reported to be twice as likely as older Whites to have
Alzheimer’s or other dementias.   For Hispanics, the likelihood is estimated to be about one and
a half.  Information about other racial-minority groups was not presented.  So, apparently, racial
minority patients are more proneto have Altzheimer’s or other dementias than Whites.  However,
service providers probably do not include that demographic consideration in their plans.  Do
in Iowa County and organizes
volunteers to cut brush and do
other work to help the State
Department of Natural Resources
maintain and restore the land to
its natural habitat.

Mary Kay’s experience
demonstrates not only the
difficulty of diagnosis but also the
determination of a person who
decided that even though close
relatives had diagnoses of early
onset Altzheimer’s disease, she
would not let it control what she
wanted to be or how she wanted
to live.