When Jill Lorentz was in her 20s, she said her mother started showing signs of forgetfulness.
“As we got a little bit older, she started having mild memory loss and we didn’t think anything of it really," she recalled. "We just thought it comes with age.”
However, she later learned her mother had Alzheimer’s Disease, a form of dementia.
“She would ask you the same question that you had just answered,” Lorentz explained.
Dementia causes a decline in memory, language, and problem solving.
“The disease takes them in a place in the progression where they start losing the ability to go A to Z on any action,” Lorentz said.
Lorentz saw this happen to her mom over the years, and eventually, to other members of her family, too.
“We have had eight people in our family with some type of dementia,” she said.
Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s Disease. Nearly six million people in the U.S. over the age of 65 are living with it, according to 2020 stats from the Alzheimer’s Association.
“A lot of the focus is on today, what do we do now that we don’t have a cure and every little in the way of a treatment,” Amelia Schafer, the executive director of Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter, said. “We now have more people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia than ever in our country and when we look at the trajectory we know it’s not slowing down.”
One of the biggest risk factors is age.
“Age is the number one risk factor so as we are aging as a population here in the U.S. it’s possible we’re more at risk,” said JJ Jordan, the Community Chair for Dementia Friendly Denver, a nonprofit that educates communities about dementia.
As more people enter the later years of their life, with more awareness and more knowledge of the warning signs, different types of dementia are able to be diagnosed easier today than before.
“I get about 90, 95 percent of my diagnosis from talking to them, getting to know them,” Dr. Samantha Holden, a behavioral neurologist with University of Colorado Health, said. “Even though we can’t cure these things, we can definitely manage them and make sure we’re improving people’s quality of life.”
That’s where caregivers like Lorentz play an important role in the life of someone who has been diagnosed. After learning lessons taking car of her mom, she is now a caregiver to her sister, Judy, who also has dementia and lives in another state.
“The one thing that I’ve done with my sister is having really open and honest conversations with her and having a safe place for her to come,” Lorentz said.