Erika Langford, 80, of Tyler did not have a lot of firsthand experience with Alzheimer’s disease until her husband was diagnosed with it about seven years ago.
As the months passed, questions arose on how to live with it and how to plan for difficult days that lay ahead.
“It gave me all sorts of suggestions on what I could do,” Ms. Langford said. “They take you under their wing. For 50 years we had a wonderful marriage. He always took good care of me, and now the roles are reversed.”
About 5 million older Americans and counting have the disease, and the number is expected to triple within the next 40 years, she said.
About 4,500 Smith County residents are affected by the disease.
Officials are hoping the first Wings Over Tyler air show is an enormous success. Texas Wounded Warrior is the second benefactor of the event.
“Every dollar raised by this event is put to good use,” Ms. Huff said. “The money stays right here — it doesn’t go outside of Smith County.”
The agency uses the funds to provide family support and disease education, including group meetings and special classes.
There’s also a day club for people affected by Alzheimer’s, providing a welcome break for patients and their caregivers.
Chris Langford, 50, said his father’s disease moved slowly, so there was some time to learn about the disease and figure out how to support both his parents.
He credits the alliance with providing answers.
“It was a huge support emotionally, knowing what resources are there,” he said. “Truly, in the general population, even your close friends don’t really know how to help you — it’s a very misunderstood disease.”
Alliance executive director Jana Humphrey said funding is critical not only for family programs but also for education and community outreach.
Early diagnosis is vital so patients can begin taking medication to delay progression of the disease, she said.
Warning signs of the disease are often subtle, such as struggles to complete familiar tasks and changing appearances as people forget basic grooming habits, agency officials said.
Educating people on what those signs can mean and how to live with a disease diagnosis is critical for all concerned, Ms. Humphrey said, adding, “The more proactive we can be, the better.”
The agency receives some support from the Area Agency on Aging in East Texas and local funding sources, but sluggish economic conditions affect the level of support, officials said.
“I think cuts will continue,” Ms. Humphrey said.
That’s what makes benefits such as July’s Wings Over Tyler air show so important, agency officials said.
“It helps with awareness so that more people know there is help,” Ms. Humphrey said.
“It can be a very scary thing,” she said. “Someone is there. You are not alone with this disease.”
To learn more about the alliance, call 903-509-8323 or visit www.alzalliance.org.