‘A silver tsunami’: Local number of people living with Alzheimer’s hits all-time high

ST. GEORGE — A new report said the number of Utahns living with Alzheimer’s has reached an all-time high.

Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia attend a memory class at Memory Matters’ new headquarters in St. George, Utah on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The Alzheimer’s Association, in its 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, estimates there are now 34,000 people in the state living with the disease, which strikes the elderly and attacks the portions of the brain that control thought, memory and language. 

That is a 3% increase over 2019, and something that could be especially noteworthy in Southern Utah.

While Utah’s age demographic skewers on the younger side – only 11.4% of people in the state are older than 65 according to the U.S. Census Bureau – that is not the case in Southern Utah where 22% of the population is older than 65. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s strikes after age 60, and the chance of getting it doubles for every five years after 65.  

“There’s been talk over the last 10 years about a silver tsunami. Well, now it’s here,” said LuAnn Lundquist, executive director of St. George’s Memory Matters, which provides aid to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia and those who care for them. “The senior housing population is booming. We’re going to see some spikes.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that spike is just beginning. Their report projects the number of Utahns with Alzheimer’s will balloon to 42,000 – a 23.5% increase – in the next five years. 

Runners and walkers gather at Tonaquint Park to participate in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society’s “Support Your Local Grandparent” fun run/walk, St. George, Utah, Nov. 8, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The dilemma will come with how to take care of a growing population with a disease that at this point has no cure. Alzheimer’s has only temporary treatments and eventually leads to death.

Lundquist said for those who get an initial Alzheimer’s diagnosis, acceptance takes time. And after acceptance, the support of others becomes important. 

“It’s such a shock. Usually, the first reaction is denial,” Lundquist said. “Once they get to the point this is something they realize, it’s so important to join a group.”

Memory Matters is such a group, starting the year in a new building and continuing to provide services during the pandemic. Though some of that support has had to be through Zoom conferences. 

“We’ve just been inundated with new people,” Lundquist said. “It’s been pretty amazing and we’ve met some of the most awesome people.”

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