Alzheimer's cases in Vt. expected to spike in coming years

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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) The number of Vermonters with Alzheimer's disease continues to increase -- it currently stands at 12,000. State projections show those numbers will only go up, and that is expected to put added strain on families caring for loved ones.

"He started having some personality changes," said Maggie Evans, speaking about her husband Larry.

She says up until eight years ago Larry was the life of the party, but then the Swanton mother of two noticed small changes became big problems. "I found $9,000 worth of bills unpaid. He knew they were there, but didn't know how to do things," she said.

And he no longer knew how to do his longtime job at Vermont Public Television. And after the love of her life was let go from his job, she knew they had to get professional help. "The doctor at the memory center told me to stop thinking of him as my partner, and that's when it felt like I got kicked in the stomach," Evans said.

Her husband of 37 years had Alzheimers. They found out when he was just 59.

"As we're moving forward with research, there's much more of a push to bring it out of the closet and really start talking about it," said Martha Richardson with the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia and Richardson says only 50-percent of people with dementia know they have the progressive disease. "It's not reported. It's not known as we get better it's going to increase on those numbers. And we're just seeing worldwide, and we don't know why," she said.

Those are big reasons why a recent report from the Governor's Commission on Alzheimer's found by the year 2025 there will be 17,000 Vermonters diagnosed with the disease -- that's a 42-percent bump from today's cases.

"We're not prepared for the onset that is coming," Richardson said. The state is estimating $141 million will be needed to pay for patient care, training, and workforce development. That's why Richardson says the association is acting now to get funding. "Most people will end up in long term care and it's such an expensive disease for the family," she said. "Preparing for that is a tough sell when you have a hard economic situation in the state."

That's why Evans says she and others are working to make the message clear, before seven years pass and the case numbers skyrocket. "At 56 you're not thinking it's Alzheimers, so I think people need to realize it can hit people at any age," she said.