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Alzheimer's and dementia target of new Department of Health grant

Health and Human Services

The state Department of Health reports 18,000 South Dakotans 65 or older living with Alzheimer’s disease – but stigma and fear can be major roadblocks to treatment. Now, extra funding could keep the conversation going in South Dakota.

The state DOH received $1.25 million for an Alzheimer’s and Dementia prevention program, and much of that could go toward educating the public on the disease.

Leslie Morrow is the executive director of the state Alzheimer’s Association. She said this grant creates new dynamics in the fight against the disease.

“What the grant is aimed at doing is building our largest dementia infrastructure, and that’s why we’re so thrilled South Dakota has been awarded this grant," Morrow said. "It gives us the opportunity to now approach this from a public health standpoint.

Morrow said modern medicine is making living with Alzheimer’s or dementia much more possible – but people need to know about it.

“Awareness is a huge issue because of the two new FDA-approved treatments that we have, early detection and diagnosis is critical because those two treatments are only effective in the very earliest stages of this disease," Morrow said. "So, if people aren’t talking about it and not seeking help from their doctor or bringing up the subject, it just pushes that boulder further down the road, and it just gets that much harder to manage.”

Challenges arise when considering the implications of memory-related diseases though.

“This is the most-feared disease of people over the age of 65 – fear goes with it," Morrow said. "I’ve been in this role for 10 years, and for many, many years we heard the argument ‘Why would I wanna know? There’s nothing you can do about it anyway - why would I want to find out?’ Well, thankfully we’re seeing that dialogue change because now we do have treatments that can intervene, give people more time, and keep them where they’re at.”

Further, Morrow says they want to offer resources and education for younger-onset dementia sufferers in their 40s or 50s.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture