November is national Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. In New Jersey, advocates say 68 percent of residents know someone who has or had Alzheimer’s or other dementias. WBGO’s Ang Santos spoke with one of the Garden State’s leading advocates for Alzheimer’s awareness.
Ang Santos: In founding Alzheimer’s New Jersey, was it a personal experience with one affected that got you into this work?
Ken Zaentz: Fortunately for me and my family it wasn’t a personal experience. But I certainly had friends that had parents or grandparents that had the disease. It became an opportunity for me to work with an organization that is trying to make a big difference in raising awareness and providing services for a population that is unfortunately sometimes overlooked.
AS: In a lot of ways advocacy in raising Alzheimer’s awareness is about sharing experiences and stories. But sometimes having such conversations can be difficult for many different reasons. What recommendations do you have for people going through Alzheimer’s and their families to get the talks going?
KZ: We launched our ‘68 Percent Campaign’ because we want the public to know what am impact Alzheimer’s has on the state. So many people are impacted by this disease either as caregivers, a family member or neighbor. We encourage with this campaign, mostly through social media for people to not be afraid to share their stories. In doing that people know they are not necessarily alone and the help that is out there. But you have to ask.
AS: Are New Jersey residents more disproportionately affected by different forms of dementia from a figure’s standpoint?
KZ: The primary risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is aging. New Jersey has an aging population. The percentage of New Jersey residents over the age of 65 is higher than the national average. We know roughly ten percent of people over 65 get Alzheimer’s disease. So statistically, yes. But it’s based off of the population demographics.
AS: What is something about Alzheimer’s and dementia that you think people should but may not know about the disease?
KZ: Sometimes people don’t understand that this is a terminal illness. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in New Jersey and nationally. There are no survivors of Alzheimer’s disease. Also, it takes a tremendous physical, mental, and financial toll on caregivers. Caregivers lots of times are doing it at their own expense. It’s taking a huge financial toll on caregivers an in extension the economy in the state. There simply is not enough being done from a public policy standpoint to address what can be done for caregivers that in many instances are bankrupting themselves so they can provide care.
AS: Is there any good news in fighting this fight?
KZ: We’ve learned a tremendous amount about the disease. While we’re not where we thought we were at a time, there’s so much going on in terms of the research side. I’m confident that answer will come.