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CDPHE introduces new plan that could help lessen impacts of Alzheimer's disease for Coloradans

Posted at 8:50 PM, Dec 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 13:44:17-05

CATLE ROCK, Colo. — Sam Van Why, 74, describes his wife, Donna, 71, as his best friend and lover.

The couple, who married in Fort Collins in 1993, now lives in Castle Rock, and have created a life filled with a lot of memories. However, some of those memories started to slowly fade for Donna in her early sixties.

"The clincher was when she couldn't find the Baskin Robbins in Castle Rock," said Sam.

After many doctors visits, Donna was diagnosed with dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease. Sam says it's been a roller coaster ride since then.

"She's called me dad or daddy most of the time for the last year and a half. And there have been times where she's said, 'Gee, I don't know where my husband is. Or she'll ask, 'Are you married?'" Sam said.

He retired from his job in 2017 to be her caretaker.

"Incontinence has been a problem for the last year and a half," said Sam."I pretty much help her as she's getting dressed."

To help families like the Van Whys, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) proposed a five-year plan to mitigate and reduce the impacts of Alzheimer's and related dementias for Coloradans.

The plan focuses on many things, including the promotion of risk reduction, early detection and diagnosis, and improvement of outcomes for people living with the disease. Joanna Espinoza Robbins with CDPHE says up to 40 percent of dementias can be delayed or prevented by engaging in a healthier lifestyle.

"It's things like controlling high blood pressure or diabetes, or preventing diabetes, being healthier, more physically active," said Espinoza Robbins.

Avoiding or quitting smoking, preventing traumatic head injuries and getting your hearing checked can also reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that the number of people 65 and older in Colorado with Alzheimer's and related dementias will rise to 92,000 by 2025. In 2020, 76,000 Coloradans who were 65 and older were reported to have Alzheimer's.

The cost of care in the US is also expected to jump from $350 billion in 2020 to over $1.1 trillion by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

No matter the journey for this couple, Sam says he's in it for the long haul.

"It's s been a different road than what I'd been expecting," the husband said.

CDPHE hopes to implement the five-year plan next year if they're awarded continued funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).