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Group helps everyone Alzheimer's touches

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of guest columns that will be published during the United Way's annual fund drive. Subsequent columns will continue to focus on selected agencies that receive United Way contributions.

As one of the affiliated service agencies for the Hernando United Way, the following information can be used to introduce the Alzheimer's Family Organization:

We are a group of former caregivers and volunteers who have united to offer services and programs for Hernando County residents who may be patients of Alzheimer's disease, or involved with caregiving of the illness.

Alzheimer's disease affects mostly people over 60. There are more than 4-million Americans suffering from this disease and, according to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, more than 7,000 in Hernando County. When the Baby Boom generation reaches the 60-plus age, by the year 2015, there will be more than 15-million people afflicted. The Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs for Alzheimer's disease and more are being studied. It is our hope that in the near future there will be a drug that will eliminate this dread disease completely.

Until that time we help those who already are diagnosed and those who will be diagnosed in the near future. Our programs and services are designed to educate the public in all aspects of the disease and offer ways to ensure proper care of both the patient and the caregiver.

Respite care is of utmost importance because it may alleviate the problem of homicide or suicide that so frequently occurs when the Alzheimer's disease caregiver reaches a point of mental and physical exhaustion.

Our support groups offer education and a sharing of similar situations. This can be a learning experience that will help the caregiver cope with the many problems of dealing with someone with dementia. Although we are the Alzheimer's Family Organization, our services are offered for all types of dementia.

To contact us for a free packet of brochures, please call toll free at (888) 496-8004. Most of our programs and services are free, thanks to the support we receive from the Hernando United Way and private donors in the Hernando community.

_ Dominick De Petrillo is executive director of the Alzheimer's Family Organization.