Smithfield hosts Alzheimer’s forum

Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2020

By Diana McFarland


Getting older means sometimes forgetting where you left the keys. But minor, temporary lapses in memory are a normal part of aging — Alzheimer’s and related dementias are not.

And as one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, it is the only disease without a means of prevention, treatment or cure. 

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More than 50 people, some with the disease, others being their caregivers or family members, met recently at Trinity United Methodist Church in Smithfield to begin the process of educating the Isle of Wight community on the many facets of the well-known, but not so well-understood group of brain diseases. 

The forum was led by the Alzheimer’s Association and sponsored by the Town of Smithfield.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

One problem that surfaced during the forum is the lack of communication about memory loss among family members, as well as between a person and his or her doctor. 

In order to make a diagnosis, people need to talk about symptoms, said Katie McDonough, director of programs and services with the Southeastern Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. 

“We know that it is not happening in doctor’s offices. No one is talking about memory issues,” said McDonough, who shared her own family’s struggle with the brain disease. 

During the discussion, Martha Hunt with Riverside Healthy Living Community said that people vary in their response to symptoms and that may contribute to the difficulty in addressing the disease early. 

Some wait until something serious occurs and others react more quickly, she said.

“Every family perceives it differently,” said Hunt.

Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell pointed out that the disease is also cloaked in denial and stigmatized. 

“People don’t want to give up their independence,” said Howell of the possible consequences of receiving a diagnosis.  

Another woman said that many people fear talking about the disease, or its symptoms — as if doing so makes it real. 

The forum also revealed that Alzheimer’s and dementias do not suddenly appear when one moves beyond middle-age. 

The changes in the brain begin early, sometimes 20 years before symptoms appear, said McDonough. 

In discussing how to educate the community on the disease, Smithfield Town Council member Wayne Hall suggested that the target age be around 35.

Some thought the information could be available at the Smithfield Farmers Market, the Luter Family YMCA, the county’s three libraries and at festivals.

Carrie Bruce said a tag line could be developed, such as, “you may have already started developing Alzheimer’s.” 

Other shortcomings in the community are a lack of daytime facilities, such as the PACE program, which stands for Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly. PACE is overseen by the state, run by local health systems and allows nursing home — and Medicaid and Medicare — eligible residents to remain at home, while being provided care during the day at a center and support in the off-hours at their residence.

Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia does offer a senior companion program and a personal care program. For more information, visit or call 461-9481.

But for many, money is a problem when it comes to paying for private services, said Annette Crocker. 

McDonough said there is a church in Williamsburg that offers a volunteer respite service that has received a good deal of recognition, and encouraged the Smithfield and Isle of Wight residents to consider that option. 

Overall, however, “there is a major lack of resources for those facing this disease,” said McDonough, adding that the funding changes need to come at the federal, state and local levels, as well as through changes in the law. {/mprestriction}