As a large generation of Americans ages, Alzheimer’s disease will affect a greater portion of the population, and a growing number of loved ones will find themselves serving as caregivers.

Nationwide, 5.7 million people have Alzheimer’s, including more than 110,000 in Washington state. Taking into account caregivers and loved ones who are affected, Alzheimer’s touches the lives of as many as 20 million people in this country alone, estimates Chuck Fuschillo, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), a nonprofit that provides support, services and education to people affected by the disease, and funds research into treatments and cures.

By 2060, the number of people who have Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia is predicted to reach 13.9 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This disease doesn’t discriminate,” Fuschillo said.

Fuschillo was in Seattle for a conference this month to help patients and caregivers learn about the latest developments in the medical community’s understanding of Alzheimer’s. Experts at the AFA’s conference offered tips and suggestions for helping people who have dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth most common cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a separate group.

Hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are all risk factors for dementia, so Fuschillo recommends taking care of your heart — for example, by eating foods rich in antioxidants and low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

The AFA also suggests that people:

  • Walk at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Limit alcohol and don’t smoke.
  • Be socially active, which helps keep the brain alert.
  • Learn new skills or hobbies. Something as simple as brushing your teeth with your other hand can help keep your brain on its figurative toes.
  • Manage stress and treat depression.

It’s important to have a good social and/or family support system around in case dementia begins to creep in, Fuschillo said.

“You can’t do this alone,” he said. “You have to have a team.”

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