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Utah leads US with highest rate of Alzheimer’s disease; help is available

BOUNTIFUL, Utah - Utah leads the nation for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Ruth Murphy is one of 30,000 Utahns who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The progressive malady attacks a person’s memory and will eventually lead to death.

More than 5 million Americans have the illness; Utah has the highest rate per capita of the disease.

“That number is only going to increase as the Baby Boomers get older,” Jeremy Cunningham said, Utah Alzheimer’s Association spokesperson. “When you think, ‘What am I going to do with mom or dad?’ and this is a daily task, it’s overwhelming. You have to build a support network.”

In Utah, more than 148,000 family members and friends care for those who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The total value of all that care is equivalent of $2,138,000 each year.

Murphy is now 92 years old and her illness likely progressed when she tried to take care of her husband, Ed, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

She found she could not offer all the care he needed.

“I didn’t know how to do things just right,” she said. “I did the best I could.”

She is now staying at the Legacy House in Bountiful, the same place her husband lived until he passed away in 2010 at age 87.

Her greatest joy is when family members come visit her, “because I love them and I always love to see them,” she said.

Her short-term memory is limited but her long time memory is still strong enough to offer this advice on why her marriage lasted 63 years.

“Being kind to one another and be thoughtful of one another, doing things for one another and caring for one another," she said.

Legacy House Activity Director Vicki Scholz says families are not always equipped to help their loved ones with this disease.

“We are there 24 hours a day and we have a team who work,” Scholz said. "Caregivers can get tired. It’s hard to be a caregiver for someone who has dementia.”

The Utah Alzheimer’s Association offers support for those who have the illness and those who care for them.

Click here to get complete information from the Utah Alzheimer's Association.