By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Alzheimer’s disease affects around 5.3 million people and is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States according to the Alzheimer’s Association. New reports estimate that American Indians suffer from the disease at a rate 1.5 times that of the Caucasian population.
The Alzheimer’s Association defines the disease as “the most common cause of dementia, the progressive loss of cognitive and intellectual ability so severe that it impacts daily functioning.”
A new partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Alzheimer’s Association will put an office and a liaison dealing with the disease on the reservation. The office, the first of its kind on an American Indian reservation, will be housed in the EBCI Health & Medical Division offices.
Vickie Bradley, EBCI Deputy Health Officer, stated the purpose of the position is “to support the efforts of families that have patients or family members with dimentia or Alzheimer’s and to provide a network or support system for them here.”
The EBCI will be providing in-kind expenses for the position which will be funded by the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s the first time that we’re actually provided this type of service in our community,” said Bradley.
Adam Fisher, of Sylva, has been selected to fill the position and said he is very excited to work with the members of the Eastern Band. “It’s sort of overwhelming, I didn’t realize the significance of all of this,” he said after finding out the office will be the first of its kind in Indian Country.
Teresa Hoover, senior director of programs and family services for the Alzheimer’s Association, said, “This is going to be a huge help in us covering the western North Carolina area. We are pleased that we are able to work with the Eastern Band, and not just the Eastern Band but the entire area.”
She said that the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association covers a 49-county area and the office in Cherokee will cover the six westernmost counties.
Lori Walker, MSW, executive director of the Western Carolina Chapter, related, “We realized immediately that there was a need here on the Boundary. It’s really a struggle and these families need help.”
Hoover added that it is the hope of the Alzheimer’s Association to remove the fear associated with the disease. “We hope to remove the stigma attached so that there’s no shame involved in seeking treatment.”
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, contact the Western Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association 1-800-272-3900 or www.alzwnc.org.