In New York state, more than 410,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s — and almost two-thirds of those New Yorkers are women.
The disease affects women disproportionately in other ways, too. The responsibilities of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s most often falls on women, and that takes a toll mentally, physically — and financially.
The NYSUT Women’s Committee will address Alzheimer’s and its disastrous impact on women at its annual meeting, Nov. 18–19.
“Since the inception of the Women’s Committee, the women of our union have always prioritized women’s health as a key issue they wanted to explore and be informed about, so they can advocate for themselves and other women in their lives,” said Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “We know Alzheimer’s disease is hitting women hard, both as patients and as caregivers. We want to empower women and give them better tools for dealing with this devastating diagnosis.”
“In the United States more than 13 million women are either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone who has it,” said Erica Salamida, director of community outreach, Coalition of New York State Alzheimer’s Association Chapters. Salamida and Elizabeth Smith-Boivin, executive director of the Northeastern New York Chapter Alzheimer’s Association, will present at the NYSUT meeting and identify lifestyle factors which can help women to reduce their risk, said Salamida.
Initially, researchers thought that women developed Alzheimer’s more frequently than men because they live longer than men, Smith-Boivin said. Now, we know women are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s due to a variety of factors, including pregnancy, hormones and heart health, which can influence blood and oxygen flow to the brain, she explained.
Nationally, women continue to outpace men when it comes to caregiving, too. In the U.S., more than 11 million people provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and 66 percent of those caregivers are women.
“Because this is a progressive and terminal disease, what may begin as somewhat manageable, caregiving can quickly become overwhelming,” said Smith-Boivin. “As this disease progresses and nears its end, someone with Alzheimer’s needs as much care as a newborn baby.”
The Alzheimer’s Association offers many resources for families and individuals contending with Alzheimer’s, including access to clinical trials, support groups, respite care grants and free care consultations. Consultants do a needs assessment and set up families with resources and strategies to manage the behaviors related to the disease, including wandering, said Salamida.
To lower their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, women should engage in regular physical exercise and heart-healthy eating. Women at risk for developing Alzheimer’s can also participate in various health studies, identified through the Alzheimer’s Association.
“I want people to know that there’s a role for all of us in research,” said Smith-Boivin.
Women should also be mindful of the 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, including memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulty planning or solving problems, and trouble completing familiar tasks. If people notice these signs in themselves or others, they should get checked because early detection matters.
“The Women’s Committee has been in existence 6 years, and together, our members are improving the lives of women. Critical health education and advocacy like this, that is shared with our 80-member committee and the 30 sister-chapters across the state that stemmed from it, has the power to change outcomes for women everywhere. That’s tremendously powerful,” said DiBrango.