ANKENY, Iowa — Alzheimer’s Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in Iowa and the United States as a whole, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Iowa is one of the states hit hardest by Alzheimer’s and is ranked 27th for the rate of deaths due to the disease.
There are 64,000 Iowans who are currently living with the disease. One of those Iowans is Evie Gregerson. Her husband Ken Gregerson has been by her side through it all.
“We’ve been married for 65 years. She was diagnosed in 2012,” he said.
Ken said as a caregiver, the Alzheimer’s Association has helped and supported him from the beginning.
“Early on I had an experience where my wife didn’t know who I was and she kept wanting me to find her husband. In the middle of the night, I called their 800 number and talked to a counselor on the phone and she gave me some good suggestions. She said why don’t you tell her that you are talking to her husband right now and that he is going to see you at church in the morning. And so I told her that and that seemed to satisfy her and we were able to go to bed and sleep,” Ken said.
The Alzheimer’s Association said the disease is more prevalent in Iowa compared to other states for a number of reasons.
“The prevalence is increasing, but the biggest reason that is happening is because we have an aging population. We have a much larger number of seniors in Iowa today than we did 10 and 20 and 30 years ago,” Program Specialist Susan Callison said.
Ken said as his wife’s caregiver, it was tough to learn there wasn’t a cure, but also that it would possibly be a slow battle with a devastating terminal illness.
“That in itself can be kind of depressing, to know what a long journey it might be. You know we are talking so much about the caregiver, but the patient also goes through this and it’s just as traumatic for them as it is for the caregiver,” Ken said.
Ken said staying positive is important and he does that with the help of a support group and even a singing group.
“The road may be long, but it’s so important to reach out and keep your friends and trying to keep your spirits up each day,” Ken said.
If you or a loved one is struggling with Alzheimer’s as a caregiver or patient the Alzheimer’s Association is always available at 1-800-272-3900.