Dementia: What’s the Latest?

 In Your Health

Did you know that the state of Georgia has a staff person dedicated to coordinating efforts around the state to ­­­­improve services to those affected by dementia and their loved ones; better dementia prevention and treatment; and increase public awareness of dementia?

Victoria Helmly

This person is Victoria Helmly, and I had the opportunity to ask her a handful of my biggest questions about Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What’s the latest research on dementia?

Victoria: There is a lot of research happening right now on cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In this day and age, with social media and endless websites, it can be hard to determine what research is worth paying attention to. The National Institutes of Health is a trusted source for the latest research developments. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association can be a great resource for this.

Q: Will there ever be a cure for dementia?

“Will there ever be a cure?” is a big question! I believe that one day there will be; however, I know there is a lot that we still do not know. There are so many different causes and types of dementia; it makes it difficult to answer.

As for Alzheimer’s disease, based on information I have learned from medical researchers, the hope is that we discover a treatment that will slow or stop the progression if we can “catch” Alzheimer’s very, very early on. Many researchers suggest that clinical trials are vital to finding this sort of treatment. I suggest one of the resources listed above to stay up to date on the latest in research. There are also often great conferences, lectures, and other events right here in Georgia where you can hear from experts in these areas, such as through the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Q: How can I try to prevent or slow the onset of dementia?

Victoria: Generally speaking, healthcare professionals agree that there are ways we can protect our brains, which are similar to ways we can protect our heart health. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, being socially engaged, and learning new things are all ways we can do this. The GARD Collaborative developed a flyer with this messaging that can be found here.

Q: What is GARD doing?

Victoria: In 2014, the Georgia Alzheimer’s & Related Dementias (GARD) State Plan was established and placed within the Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Aging Services (DAS). In 2016, DAS hired a GARD State Plan Coordinator to oversee the State Plan and its progress. Currently, there are six work groups who convene regularly to collaborate on ways to move the state plan forward. These work groups are Workforce Development; Service Delivery, Outreach & Partnerships; Public Safety; Healthcare Research & Data Collection; and Policy. If you’d like to learn more about GARD, please visit https://aging.georgia.gov/georgia-alzheimers-related-dementias-state-plan.

Q: Tell me more about Georgia Memory Net.

Victoria: In addition, the Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services oversees an over $4 million project called Georgia Memory Net, which is spearheaded by Emory University. The overall goal of Georgia Memory Net is early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. DHS is contracted with Emory University to implement this exciting initiative, which established five Memory Assessment Clinics (MACs) since the project began in 2017.

Georgia Memory Net has a great website that details the different aspects of this initiative—including training and education of primary care physicians, partnering with academic healthcare institutions to establish the MACs, and working with community resources in order to provide support to families after a diagnosis. This infographic is a great snapshot of Georgia Memory Net.

Q: If I have a loved one that has been diagnosed with dementia, what can I do now to help?

Victoria: If your loved one has been diagnosed with a type of dementia, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself on that disease or disorder, including what to expect.

On the Division of Aging website, we have a list of resources that may be useful and helpful. Among these resources are the Alzheimer’s Association (which has information on more than just Alzheimer’s Disease), the Lewy Body Dementia Association, and the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. These organizations have education, support groups, help lines, and other resources that can be very helpful.

Another important thing to do after a diagnosis has been given is to plan ahead. This includes asking your loved one about their preferences and wishes if they are one day unable to care for themselves or make decisions about end-of-life care. These conversations can be very difficult; however, it is extremely helpful for family members and can mitigate crises. It helps you to know that you have honored the wishes of your loved one. [Empowerline has helpful resources to guide you and your loved one through this process.]

Georgia’s Aging & Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) is a No Wrong Door access point for information requests and assistance and is also a good place to start. You can call them from anywhere in the state at 1-866-552-4464, option 2, or find the ADRC that serves your county here.

If you live in the metro Atlanta region, call empowerline, Atlanta’s ADRC, at (404) 463-3333.

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