New Report Shows Impact of Alzheimer's Disease on Women

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COLUMBIA - Almost two years ago, Amelia Cottle's day-to-day life completely changed.

"When the diagnosis was confirmed it was like, like we've told people, getting hit upside the head with a bulldozer or a brick or a bat," Cottle said.

Cottle found out her husband, Brian, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at age 52. Since that day, she has dedicated her life to being her husband's care partner.

"It's very important to understand that a person with dementia is still a person," Cottle said. "So when I say caregiver, I'm not just giving. I'm his partner. I'm my husband's partner in so many ways over the last 28 years and I will be his partner until the day he dies. So when I care, I'm his care partner. We're walking the journey together, and we are literally walking it hand in hand."

This month, the Alzheimer's Association released its "2014 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures" report. This report differed from previous issues because it included a special report on women and Alzheimer's disease. This special report proved evidence that Alzheimer's disease takes a stronger toll on women than men. This mean more women than men are caregivers and more women than men develop the disease. This report also revealed that women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer. Click here to view the full report.

"The new information frightens me," Cottle said. "It quite frankly scares the hell out of me. There needs to be concentration here. More women will die from Alzheimer's disease than they will with breast cancer. When you tell people that they will be shocked, but those are the facts.

Linda Newkirk is the executive director for Columbia's Alzheimer's Association chapter.

"I think this will be empowering from the perspective that it identifies women as a group that has an opportunity to really make a difference," Newkirk said. "They have something important to contribute. They have something important to say, and they can influence the direction of this movement."

Last year, Americans provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In Missouri specifically, around 354 million hours of unpaid care were provided.

Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer's disease are women. Sometimes, Newkirk says being a caregiver can be isolating.

"One of the first things I think caregivers face is people not understanding that there's a change going on," Newkirk said. "While they're having to do more for their loved one, people don't understand those changes."

"Even though care partners have a lot going on in their lives and it's hard for them, I try to remember everyday that it's my husband who's losing everything he has," Cottle said. "It's been devastating emotionally for my husband, and you have to remember the focus is on that person."

 For Cottle, she and her husband continue to adjust to make life as relaxing as possible.

"The biggest change is the difference in our lives on a day-to-day basis of what he can do and the next day what he might not be able to do," Cottle said. "That's the biggest change, is to watch what happens as dementia takes over the brain and robs him of the things that are important to him and things he enjoys."

Newkirk said Alzheimer's disease is the only major disease without a treatment or a cure.

"This is an epidemic that's here," Newkirk said. "The voice of every person needs to be heard. We need research dollars. The deaths due to this disease are climbing rather than decreasing. Something has to change."

Cottle says the past two years have been filled with ups and downs, but most importantly laughter.

"You're walking a different road than anyone else walks and the only people that understand it are the people that are walking that same journey with you," Cottle said.

[Editor's note: Brian Cottle was employed at KOMU 8 until his diagnosis with Alzheimer's two years ago.]