Local Advocate Begins Alzheimer's Initiative

5/19/2021

A new Four Corners area resident has established a network of support and education to help those with Alzheimer's disease and their families. Sponsored by The Timbers at Edgemont Highlands and FASTSIGNS

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A Four Corners area resident has started a new initiative in the region to raise awareness and understanding about the impacts of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. You're watching the Local News Network brought to you by the Timbers at Edgemont Highlands and FASTSIGNS of Durango. I'm Wendy Graham Settle. To say that Teresa Valko is an avid advocate for supporting people with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia would be an understatement. She's volunteered full-time for the Alzheimer's Association by teaching classes, building support networks, and testifying before Congress for more than 10 years. First in California and now here in the Four Corners region. Valko recently started the San Juan Basin Alzheimer's and Dementia Initiative, a group that meets once a month to address the impacts of Alzheimer's and dementia on individuals, families, and the community. Valko has good reason for her motivation to advocate on behalf of those with the disease. Alzheimer's has taken eight members from two generations on the maternal side of her family including her mother last September. And she knows she's at risk.

It's really adjusted how I live and that I know that I'm probably going to reach a point in my life where I don't have memories. So you always hear people talk about going out and trying to make memories and that's a big push for them to do that, but I realized that my memories aren't something I'll have forever. So I'm really focused on living for the moment every day, all day long, because that's what I know I have.

Dementia is a general term that describes the symptoms of mental decline associated with brain disease. Alzheimer's is a specific degenerative brain disease that impacts memory. Mental acuity eventually destroys all brain function and leads to death. About 60% of people suffering from dementia eventually are diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease and dementia affects 6 million Americans and cost the nation more than $355 million for their treatment and care. That's expected to explode to $1.1 trillion in the next 30 years.

The biggest risk factor is age, as you get older, the risk of developing Alzheimer's or other dementia increases. The second largest risk factor is having an immediate family member having Alzheimer's or other dementia. After that there's head injury, there's lifestyle. We know now that high blood pressure, obesity, depression increase your risk for developing Alzheimer's and other dementia along with some other factors.

Valko teaches free classes on just about every aspect of living with Alzheimer's from recognizing the signs and symptoms to educating caregivers on how Alzheimer's impacts a person's reasoning. Valko says reality checks just don't work.

If you're caring for a loved one or someone and they try to tell you that they haven't eaten in three days and they don't understand why they're not being fed, instead of saying, "Now I gave you dinner last night, "I gave you breakfast this morning," and try to explain to them what's true and what's right, that kind of doesn't work with someone living with Alzheimer's. So what you want to do is say, "Well, gosh, I didn't realize you were hungry. "Let's go fix you something right now. "What would you like? "What sounds good?" Or "Let me go make you a sandwich right now. "I'd like to sit down and eat with you." It's no longer about making sure that everyone is correct and everyone knows reality because they aren't living in the same reality. They're living with a new normal, and that's so important with communication with someone with Alzheimer's or other dementia.

Valko soon will be organizing the Walk to End Alzheimer's scheduled for Saturday, September 25th at Rotary Park in Durango. Entry is free, but participants are encouraged to raise donations to support the association's free programs and funding to find a cure. Valko says the day also is an opportunity to find love, understanding, support, and hope.

And for someone like me whose family has been so impacted by this disease, it can be really overwhelming, a really big source of sadness and grief but on Walk day, that's my celebration day. And when I'm able to join, be surrounded by other people who've also been affected by this disease and realize that there's so many people who feel like I do and we all want to come together and change what's happening, it gives me such a sense of hope and that's my day. That's my day of hope.

Learn more about the resources available through the Alzheimer's Association. Visit alz.org or call the 24 hour hotline at 272-3900. To contact Valko to learn more about local initiatives, email her at tvalcotoendalz@gmail.com. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network serving La Plata, Montezuma, and San Miguel Counties in Southwest Colorado and San Juan County in Northwest New Mexico. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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