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Addressing growing rates of Alzheimer’s disease

Sharon Napper sits to the left of Focal Point host Angie Miles, who is wearing a blue-green dress.
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VPM News Focal Point
Sharon Napper sits with Focal Point host Angie Miles

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates a 12% increase in the disease in Virginia by 2025. Learn about your options if you or a loved one is struggling with the disease. 

About 6.5 million Americans aged 65 or older are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025 it’s projected that an estimated 190-thousand Virginians will have this brain disorder. Sharon Napper – a health educator with the Alzheimer’s Association talks about the disease and what you can do if your loved one is struggling with it.


ANGIE MILES: I'm with Sharon Napper, who is a nurse and professional trainer with the Alzheimer's Association. You're assigned to the Richmond Chapter, but you work all over the state. Tell us about what you do.

SHARON NAPPER: I am a professional trainer for the Alzheimer's Association, so I go out the state of Virginia and train facilities and first responders and people that want information about Alzheimer's and dementia. And for the healthcare providers, I provide the certificates that they need from the Department of Social Services to be able to work and provide care in a memory care setting.

ANGIE MILES: That's important. Why is it so important?

SHARON NAPPER: It's important because over 6.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's. In the next three years, the United States will see an increase of up to 20 to 25% of people with Alzheimer's and dementia and this state alone will see anywhere from 12 to 15% by the year 2025.

ANGIE MILES: Alzheimer's and dementia disproportionately impact communities of color, right?

SHARON NAPPER: Yeah, so African Americans are twice as likely to have the higher risk for Alzheimer's and dementia. Hispanics about one in five and Caucasians not as much. And some of that disparity deals with health equity. It's also access to healthcare and access to actual nutritious food and education. And so, therefore, we try to get out into the rural communities and talk to churches and to other civic organizations, so that people are aware that you do not have to have mild cognitive decline. It's based on your lifestyle. Understanding the head and the heart connection. What you do for your heart also helps your brain. We have to get out into the community and let everybody know that you don't have to have this at all.

ANGIE MILES: If someone suspects a loved one may have Alzheimer's or dementia, what can they do?

SHARON NAPPER: There's usually 10 warning signs and we go over them in our various classes and educational features and... Well, the number one thing that I notice is, like I said there are 10, so one is misplacing things without being able to retrace your steps. You're withdrawing from people. Not being able to do your normal activities such as pay your bills, organize your closet. It could be as simple as baking cookies and forgetting the ingredients. But the number one thing that people always notice before the problems with memory is behavior changes.

We as adults, we make accommodations for our loved ones, our coworkers, they're stressed, they're having a hard time, but we notice when someone treats us differently and so sometimes that is the things that we see and especially with loved ones, people know that they're missing time and they're having some problems with memory, so they try to hide it before they ever go into their primary care provider. And then that leads to another problem because a lot of rural areas, they don't have a lot of neurologist. You would go to your primary care, then you would be referred to a neurologist to see, but in rural areas you don't have access to a neurologist. And then you have older adults that are not able to drive and get that transportation to get the diagnosis.

On our website at, we have a community resource finder. You put in your zip code and it will then, you can click a box for physicians, community resources, and it will tell you the physicians that you can go to, how far they are from your zip code. We also have in ALZ it's called a navigator, so you can also go in there based on your zip code and point and click and decide what you need for your plan and what your family needs to provide support for you.

ANGIE MILES: Many years ago, I served on an Alzheimer's board and I know at that time respite care was a really big need and request for support. What is the status of respite care support today?

SHARON NAPPER: It is a huge concern because caregiving for someone with any type of chronic illness, especially dementia and Alzheimer's, is very stressful. So, the state has respite dollars. They're not based on income or anything like that and so we refer people out to several different nonprofits and entities that provide that.

ANGIE MILES: We hear often about a cure, lots of breakthroughs, but we are not there yet. How close are we to a cure? What's promising?

SHARON NAPPER: Well, we have some two new medicines that we're looking at but we're very upset with CMS because they will not approve those for the people that need it. So, make sure that everybody's talking to their congressman, their senator, and people that will listen about getting those drugs to the populations that actually need them.

ANGIE MILES: If someone is looking for support, assistance with a loved one who may be suffering or if someone wants to be a support and give help to the organization, what do you suggest they do?

SHARON NAPPER: I would suggest that they would call the 1800 number for Alzheimer's, or they can go on our website at We can do care consultations. We can send someone out to help them get the proper diagnosis. We can refer them to different access points in their community.

ANGIE MILES: Sharon Napper with the Alzheimer's Association, thank you so much for joining us.


Additional Resources:

Alzheimer’s Association:


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
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