PROVO (AP) — Alzheimer's is often referred to as the silver tsunami, affecting around 30,000 people over the age of 65 in the state of Utah with that number increasing at a rapid rate, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
"By our counts, we will be anywhere from fourth to sixth in the nation by 2025," said Jeremy Cunningham, public policy and communications director of the Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
The state of Utah has seven Walks to End Alzheimer's, including one in Utah County Oct 7 that had over 600 attendees, including those who lost loved ones, caretakers and those with the disease.
With Utah's increasing rates of longevity and baby boomers also comes an increasing rate of acquiring Alzheimer's or other dementia. At the age of 65, the chances of having the disease are around 1 in 10, while at the age of 85, the rates increase to 1 in 3, according to the association.
The increase in the disease also comes with an increase in caregivers like Orem resident Bill Trowbridge, 82, who cares for his wife, Kay, 81.
They met at the University of Utah. Kay was a prima ballerina with the U. before it became Ballet West. He was a Sigma Chi and she was an Alpha Chi Omega.
"My friend took her on a double date to the fraternity dinner and afterward I looked at him and said 'I think you took the girl I'm gonna marry,'" said Bill, smiling. "I knew she was the one. "
She spent a season with the San Francisco Ballet before returning to school. They got married the next September and have been married for 61 years.
It was in 2008 when everything started to change. Each year, they would spend time in their cabin with their six sons.
"She was the champion of competitive solitaire," said Bill. "We played games like backgammon and Sorry and things like that. The next April, we went up alone and she couldn't play any of the games."
That summer, Kay was diagnosed with dementia and by 2012, she had been given an Alzheimer's diagnosis.
"You have to just accept it and realize when those things come up it's not your wife or grandparent anymore, it's the disease," he said.
Together, the two have gone through stages of the disease where they have learned and grown together. Five years ago, Kay was cooking eggs on the stove without a pan. Now, Bill cooks. Before that, she was driving home from the church house and she left the car in the middle of the road because she couldn't remember which garage was theirs. Since then Bill does the driving.
He is a beacon of calmness; holding Kay's hand and kissing her forehead as she whispers, asking about things she has lost.
"You have to have patience," said Bill. "I wasn't a patient person before this."
Kay moves her hand back to his before whispering, "He's been perfect all the time."
The thing that has touched Bill the most are the things people do to try to help, often bringing her treats or sitting with her for an afternoon so Bill can go grocery shopping. Even the church had a sign-up sheet for the women to come over and share an afternoon with Kay.
According to Cunningham at the Alzheimer's Association, on average five people in a typical LDS Church ward will have Alzheimer's or related dementia with one primary care provider, usually a spouse or child. It takes three additional people helping out and supporting. Many times those people are from a ward, like the sisters who share an afternoon with Kay.
"We hope to work ourselves out of a job by finding a cure," said Cunningham.Comment on this story
Until then, their hope is to meet the needs of Utah families dealing with the disease by working toward a cure and educating the public in any way possible, including their information helpline. The helpline features many languages and dialects and each person answering the phone is a master clinician and has a master's degree.
For families like Bill and Kay Trowbridge, questions will always arise, but together they will overcome it.
"This will be a winter to learn," said Bill. "Even though we have been learning for years, I think the hardest things have yet to come."